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Sheffield University researchers find new Parkinson's treatment lead

Sheffield University researchers find new Parkinson's treatment lead
21st October 2014

Parkinson's UK has hailed the discovery of a potential treatment for the disease after scientists discovered some drugs could treat and even reverse the symptoms.

The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Sheffield, has so far only been tested on fruit flies, but showed that there may be hope for those who carry mutations in a gene called LRRK2.

It is not understood why, but there is a link between faulty LRRK2 genes and a substantially increased risk of Parkinson's disease.

The team of researchers found that drugs called deacetylase inhibitors could target the defective transport in nerve cells and reverse the problems caused by the faulty LRRK2 gene.

Dr Beckie Port, research communications officer at Parkinson's UK, which part-funded the study, said: "This research gives hope that, for people with a particular mutation in their genes, it may one day be possible to intervene and stop the progression of Parkinson's."

Research comes in two stages

The research, which was published in the journal Nature Communications, was led by Dr Kurt De Vos from the department of neuroscience and Dr Alex Whitworth from the department of biomedical sciences.

Initially the researchers had to prove a link between a defective LRRK2 gene and Parkinson's- like symptoms in the fruit flies.

Dr De Vos explained: "Our study provides compelling evidence that there is a direct link between defective transport within nerve cells and movement problems caused by the LRRK2 Parkinson's mutation in flies."

Co-researcher Dr Alex Whitworth added that the study also revealed that the defects could be reversed by use of specific drugs.

More studies needed to see effect on humans

Dr De Vos said that while the results of the study were "very promising", there is still some work to be done to establish whether the drugs can have the same effect on humans.

Research reveals synapses may be key to treatment

Parkinson's UK has also recently helped fund another research project that has been examining the connections between nerve cells - referred to as synapses - to see if they can offer help in the fight against the disease.

The project has been undertaken at University College London and led by the charity's researcher Dr Soledad Galli.

Dr Galli and his team have revealed that these synapses may die in mice because of malfunctioning proteins (Wnt proteins).

When the researchers gave mice drugs to prevent Wnt proteins from working properly, the animals developed problems with their movement, which is a principle symptom of Parkinson's.

The study, which has been published in Nature Communications, is of particular interest because it suggests that by restoring the protein's protective properties, the condition may be able to be halted.

Dr Galli said that it was particularly interesting as the synapses have not been examined in such a way before.

He warned that more needs to be done to examine if the same effect occurs in humans as in mice.

"If we confirm that Wnt is involved in the early stages of Parkinson's this throws up exciting possibilities, not just for new treatment targets, but also for new ways to identify people with Parkinson's early on in their condition," he said.

Research communications officer at Parkinson's UK Dr Beckie Port said drugs which can stop the progression of Parkinson's are urgently needed, as she hinted that currently regimens are concentrated on "masking the symptoms".

The majority of existing research has centred on looking at preventing the death of nerve cells, rather than at how the bridges between those cells could be protected, she said.

By concentrating on a new area of research, she hinted it could "open up completely new routes towards our goal of a cure for Parkinson's".