Drugs commonly used to treat high blood pressure may slow or even halt the progression of Parkinson’s disease, scientists have said.
If the results from animal studies are confirmed in humans it could be the biggest advance in managing the disease for 30 years.
Although treatments are available to reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s, they become less effective over time and nothing currently can stop the disease progressing.
The new research holds out the prospect not only of slowing Parkinson’s but preventing the symptoms ever appearing, according to the US team.
Parkinson’s, which mainly affects people aged 60 and over, occurs when dopamine neurons in the brain start to die.
Dopamine released by the cells is a critical chemical messenger that affects the control of movement. When dopamine is lacking, movement becomes more difficult and uncoordinated. Sufferers experience muscle rigidity and tremors and ultimately lose the ability to walk, talk or even pick up a glass of water.
An estimated 10,000 people in the UK are newly diagnosed each year with Parkinson’s and up to 120,000 have the disease.
Scientists at Northwestern University in Chicago discovered that isradipine, a ‘calcium blocker’ drug for high blood pressure, angina and stroke, had the power to rejuvenate ageing dopamine neurons.
Tests on mice showed that the drug protected the dopamine cells from toxins that would normally kill them.
The cells began to operate as if they were younger. As a result, mice engineered to have a progressive Parkinson’s-like disease resisted becoming ill.
Dr Kieran Breen, Director of research and development at the Parkinson’s Disease Society, welcomed the findings but cautioned that much more work still had to be done.
‘The results that have been reported are from a very early stage pre-clinical trial using a model of Parkinson’s. Further trials are needed to establish whether similar results are seen in people with the condition.
‘It is too early to state with confidence that this drug will be appropriate for the treatment for Parkinson’s disease. We can also not predict whether this drug will be used as a preventative or protective measure in the future. A significant amount of further research will be required before any definite conclusions can be drawn.’
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