CU Researchers Testing Drug To Stop Parkinson's Progression

Medication Turns On Critical Gene That Protects Brain Cells From Damage

In what's being called a major breakthrough in the battle against Parkinson’s disease, researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine have discovered a drug that stops the progression of the degenerative illness in mice.

The drug phenylbutyrate is now being tested in humans.

Phenylbutyrate turns on a gene that can protect dopamine neurons in Parkinson’s disease, said Wenbo Zhou, PhD, assistant professor of medicine.

"Drugs currently used to treat Parkinson’s disease just treat symptoms; they do not stop the disease from getting worse," said Dr. Curt Freed in a statement. "We’ve now discovered that we can prevent the progression of the disease by turning on a protective gene in the brain."

Aging mice receiving the drug were able to move normally, had no decline in mental function, and their brains did not accumulate the protein that causes Parkinson’s, officials said. By contrast, older animals that did not get the drug saw a steady decline in their ability to move as their brains were damaged by abnormal proteins.

The results are on the Journal of Biological Chemistry website.

The researchers began giving phenylbutyrate to people in 2009, to test the safety of the drug in Parkinson's patients.

Zhou and Freed will publish the human results in the coming months.

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