A diabetes drug can slow the progress of Parkinson’s disease, and seems to target the underlying cause of the condition, not just its symptoms. The finding adds weight to the theory that the two conditions work in a similar way.
Parkinson’s is disease that leads to the loss of brain cells that make dopamine, a chemical that helps control body movements. Unfortunately, the cure for Parkinson’s has yet to be discovered. While replacing dopamine can improve the tremors and stiffness, it doesn’t stop the brain from continuing to deteriorate. And in an ambitious attempt to slow this, Foltynie and his colleagues have turned to a drug typically used to treat exenatide, the type 2 diabetes.
This flexible drug comes from a class of compounds originally separated from the venom of a lizard called the gila monster. Not only does these help control blood sugar levels which are undoubtedly useful for the diabetic – this type of drug also guards neurons from toxins.
Over 48 weeks, Foltynie and his colleagues gave exenatide to 31 people with moderate Parkinson’s disease. The participants injected themselves with the drug everyday (except the day before assessments, pretty basic stuff) while 29 people with a similar level of disease did the same with a placebo.
Foltynie’s team assessed all the volunteers’ symptoms eight weeks after the end of the trial. Those who had received the placebo had deteriorated over the course of the year – by an average that is a typical rate of decline for people with Parkinson’s.
Those who had taken exenatide showed an average improvement of one point, putting them four points ahead of the placebo group. Brain scans presented that those taking the drug showed less degeneration.
Exenatide is thought to be generally safe, although its side effects can include an upset stomach and weight loss. This can affect how cells produce energy, causing them to starve and leading to inflammation. Although exenatide and drugs like it aren’t yet recommended for Parkinson’s, at least it seems to protect cells from this damage and adds to a growing body of research suggesting that neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s may work in a similar way to diabetes, and that neurons can become unresponsive to insulin in the same way that cells in the pancreas do in type 2 diabetes.
Hurry up, science. Don’t shake this off.
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