Currently there are no known treatments available to change the course of Parkinson’s disease, only treatments for symptoms. But research at UAB is working to be a part of providing the first therapy that slows or halts the disease itself.
“Our goal is to halt Parkinson’s disease in its tracts by treating newly diagnosed patients as well as finding new drugs to slow or stop Parkinson’s disease from progressing in patients already suffering with the disease,” says Dr. Andrew B. West, associate professor of neurology and neurobiology at UAB.
A nervous system disorder, Parkinson’s develops gradually, sometimes starting with a slight tremor in one hand and progressing to often cause stiffness or slowing of movement. The hope is that the approach West’s lab is testing using urine and cerebral-spinal fluid samples from patients with Parkinson’s would help slow the disease by blocking the further spread of the bad types of proteins and exaggerated inflammatory responses in the brain.
“Although the movement problems associated with Parkinson’s disease are the most obvious signs of the disease, patients and their families fear the cognitive symptoms that happen later in disease the most,” West says. “The best way to prevent the cognitive problems is to develop treatments that slow or stop the disease in its tracts, and this is our focus.”
Their therapy, which addresses a protein called called LRRK2 (pronounced lark two) that correlates with the presence and severity of Parkinson’s, is one West says was too “pie-in-the-sky” to interest investment eight years ago, but today they are partnering with NIH, prestigious pharmaceutical companies, and Michael J. Fox Foundation, and assisted also by local philanthropy in Alabama that West says has been “absolutely critical” to moving forward.
“I will not stop working on Parkinson’s disease until it is cured, and I believe this goal is completely possible in the next 10 years with the support of people suffering with the disease as well as those that share the desire to eliminate Parkinson’s disease for good,” he says.