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MSU investigates drug to halt Parkinson's progression

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. Researchers from Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine, Van Andel Research Institute and the Translational Genomics Research Institute are investigating a drug that has the potential to not only alleviate Parkinson's symptoms but also halt the disease's progression.

A $400,000 grant from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research part of $2.4 million in funding the foundation awarded this week to institutions nationwide will fund the research project.

Researchers are focusing on the drug Fasudil, which is currently approved in Japan to improve blood flow to the brain in stroke victims and has shown similar positive outcomes in U.S. clinical trials.

In 2009, investigators from the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Arizona and Arizona State University reported that a form of Fasudil had the potential to help improve learning and memory and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Van Andel researchers also recently discovered the potential of the drug in Parkinson's when they were testing various drugs that reduce the toxicity caused by a defective PARK1 gene, a gene implicated in Parkinson's disease.

"The potential of this drug is exciting not only because it could halt disease progression where other treatments only provide symptomatic relief but also because of how quickly it could be made available to patients," said Jeffrey P. MacKeigan, head of Van Andel's Laboratory of Systems Biology and co-investigator on the project with Caryl E. Sortwell of MSU's College of Human Medicine.

"Fasudil has a very favorable safety profile in humans and already is available in Japan as an oral tablet, so we could be seeing clinical trials within two to three years," MacKeigan added.

The development of new drugs is expensive and time-consuming, said Kuldip Dave, associate director of research programs at MJFF.

"In fall 2010, MJFF launched our inaugural repositioning program to address these realities and to attempt to reduce the time and costs involved in finding drugs that could help people living with Parkinson's," Dave said.

The next step in the project is for researchers from MSU to validate the therapeutic use of Fasudil in disease models of Parkinson's. Ultimately, the goal is to determine whether Fasudil has the therapeutic potential to protect and restore degenerating neurons in Parkinson's.

"This collaboration highlights the strength of strategically aligning teams from two research organizations with different skill sets," said MSU's Sortwell, a professor in the Division of Translational Science and Molecular Medicine. "The Van Andel/TGen team has expertise in cell biology and proteomics, while our researchers have extensive experience in Parkinson's disease systems biology and modeling. Together both organizations share the goal of helping those afflicted with Parkinson's to live better lives as a result of their respective research programs."


Contact: Jason Cody
Michigan State University

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