New treatment may be on the horizon for Parkinson's disease

More of us are susceptible to Parkinson's as we age, as evidenced by actor Alan Alda's recent diagnosis. A new treatment may be on the horizon.

Isradipine, the commonly prescribed blood pressure drug, was identified by Northwestern Medicine investigators as protecting against Parkinson's disease in preclinical studies. Now the drug is in the final months of a phase III clinical trial at Northwestern and more than 50 other sites across the U.S.

"If this drug proves to be safe and effective, it will change the way we treat Parkinson's disease," said Dr. Tanya Simuni, the principal investigator of the study and director of the Northwestern Medicine Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center. "The major advantage is isradipine is already widely available and inexpensive and will allow for rapid translation of our research into clinical practice. Although we now have very effective symptomatic treatments to manage Parkinson's, the development of a disease-modifying intervention remains the Holy Grail."

Isradipine has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a calcium-channel blocker to treat hypertension (high blood pressure). Isradipine blocks excessive influx of calcium into the brain cells responsible for development of Parkinson's.

With the recent Parkinson's diagnosis of Alda, national attention is focused on this disease that still has no cure, only treatment for symptoms.

A newly published research paper by D. James Surmeier, director of Northwestern's Udall Center, showed isradipine reduced mitochondrial stress in mice that might cause Parkinson's disease.

The incidence of Parkinson's will increase as the population ages, Simuni said.

"Parkinson's affects 1 percent of people above the age of 60. The risk for the disease increases with aging," she said, noting more men are affected by Parkinson's than women at a rate of 3 to 2.

"It's not surprising that Alan Alda was diagnosed. It is the second most common neurodegenerative disease of aging after Alzheimer's."

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