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Northwestern University (NU) scientists have developed a compound that may help reduce the progression of Parkinson's disease. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the condition occurs when the nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine - a neurotransmitter that helps control muscle movement, among other things - are destroyed.
The NU scientists' research, which was published in Nature Communications, shows that newly developed compounds may be able to close a protein, channel that allows calcium to damage dopamine neurons, which tends to cause cognitive decline and even premature death.
"These are the first compounds to selectively target this channel," study author D. James Surmeier, Ph.D., said. "By shutting down the channel, we should be able to slow the progression of the disease or significantly reduce the risk that anyone would get Parkinson's disease if they take this drug early enough."
According to Richard B. Silverman, Ph.D., another author of the research, this is a novel approach to Parkinson's, because it can help to prevent the disease instead of just treating the symptoms.
The newly developed compound operates similarly to another drug, isradipine, which recently completed Phase 2 of clinical trials. Unfortunately, isradipine also interferes with the channels in the walls of blood vessels, so doses high enough to treat Parkinson's would likely be detrimental to other bodily systems. The researchers tested more than 60,000 compounds and spent nearly nine months refining molecules in order to develop a compound that would only target the channel that allows calcium to destroy neurons.
Parkinson's diagnosis and symptoms
In order to diagnose Parkinson's disease, doctors look at medical history, examine symptoms and possibly issue a lab test to rule out any underlying causes, the Mayo Clinic reports.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Parkinson's is most common in people 50 years and older. Some physical symptoms include slow blinking, constipation, drooling, challenges walking and balancing, and stiff and aching muscles. Tremors, or shaking, usually occur in the limbs when they're at rest and they tend to go away when a person moves. The tremors may spread to the head, lips, tongue and feet.
Mental symptoms of Parkinson's include confusion, dementia, depression, fainting, hallucination and memory loss.
If Parkinson's goes untreated, it will continue to degrade mental and cognitive ability until a patient is completely disabled, the NIH notes. Most people respond to treatments that help control symptoms, although the necessary dose and its effectiveness varies from person to person.
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