Scientists in the U.S. say they have discovered a drug that slows and might even stop the progression of Parkinson's disease.
A team of researchers at Northwestern University have found in a new study that the blood pressure drug isradipine slowed down the progress of Parkinson's disease in genetically altered lab mice, and in some cases prevented it from occurring.
Isradipine is commonly prescribed to patients to treat hypertension (high blood pressure) and to prevent a stroke.
The researchers, led by Professor D. James Surmeier, found the drug rejuvenates aging dopamine cells, whose death in the brain causes the symptoms of the disease; dopamine is a critical chemical messenger in the brain that affects a person's ability to direct his movements.
Parkinson's disease is fatal and there is at present no cure for it.
Dr. Surmeier says they hope the drug will protect dopamine neurons, so that if taken early enough, it will prevent Parkinson's disease, even in those at risk.
Surmeier says isradipine could be taken in much the same way as aspirin is taken to protect the heart and might also significantly benefit people who already have Parkinson's disease.
Surmeier's team found that the drug protected dopamine neurons from toxins that would normally kill them by restoring the neurons to a younger state in which they are less vulnerable.
Further research plans to test the drug on humans.
Parkinson's disease is the second leading degenerative brain disease in the United States, effecting more than 1 million people.
Dr. D. James Surmeier is the Nathan Smith Davis Professor and chair of physiology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.
The study is published in the online edition of the journal Nature.