d and die prematurely.
Surmeier's hunch was to try isradipine, a well-tolerated hypertension and stroke drug commercialised under the name of DynaCirc, which blocks the channels in the cell surface that admit calcium.
Tested on lab-dish cells and then on mice which had been genetically engineered to have Parkinson's, the team found that within a few hours of being exposed to the drug, the neurons reverted to their youth-like state, of using sodium.
This lowered the cells' stress level, making them less vulnerable to the toxins, still poorly understood, that kills them.
"They start acting like they're youngsters again," Northwestern quoted Surmeier as saying.
The study is published online on Sunday by Nature, the British science journal.
So far the work has only been carried out on animals, and more needs to be done to assess the drug's effect on humans.
But Surmeier voiced cautious hopes it could be the first treatment to prevent or slow the progression of this devastating disease.
The mainstay treatment for Parkinson's is L-DOPA, a drug that the brain converts into dopamine.
At first, L-DOPA has a seemingly miraculous effective on symptoms.
The problem, though, is that it becomes less and less effective as time wears on and the disease progresses.
That forces doctors to raise the dose of this drug, which induces unwanted side-effects, including spastic, jerky movements.
So, if isradipine can slow the death of dopamine neurons, the L-DOPA "honeymoon" could be significantly extended.
"If we could double or triple the therapeutic window for L-DOPA, it would be a huge advance," said Surmeier.
"There has not been a major advance in the pharmacological management of Parkinson's in 30 years."Page: 1 2 Related medicine news :1
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