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UK Collaborative Research, Promising New Treatment for Parkinson’s on Horizon

By Jennifer Bonck

Photo of Greg Gerhardt, Ph.D.
Greg Gerhardt, Ph.D.

Photo of Don Gash, Ph.D.
Don Gash, Ph.D.

In collaboration with researchers at the Institute of Neurosciences in Bristol, United Kingdom, and University of Wisconsin, Madison, a UK College of Medicine team led by Greg Gerhardt, Ph.D., professor of anatomy and neurobiology and director of UK’s Morris K. Udall Parkinson’s Center, and Don Gash, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, conducted animal studies that provided essential preclinical data for an initial Phase I trial.

 

April 3, 2003 (Lexington, Ky.) -- An innovative treatment involving direct drug delivery to the brain holds great promise in treating Parkinson’s disease, according to a paper in the March 31 online Nature Medicine. The foundation for this new treatment came from basic research conducted at the University of Kentucky Morris K. Udall Parkinson’s Disease Research Center of Excellence.

In collaboration with researchers at the Institute of Neurosciences in Bristol, United Kingdom, and University of Wisconsin, Madison, a UK College of Medicine team led by Greg Gerhardt, Ph.D., professor of anatomy and neurobiology and director of UK’s Morris K. Udall Parkinson’s Center, and Don Gash, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, conducted animal studies that provided essential preclinical data for an initial Phase I trial.

As detailed in Nature Medicine, a team led by Steven Gill, M.D., at the Institute of Neurosciences, and neurobiologist Clive Svendsen, Ph.D., at the University of Wisconsin, treated five patients with Parkinson's disease. A miniature pump was implanted in the abdomen, with a tube snaking up to the brain, where a thin plastic needle dispensed a protein called glial cell derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) to the brain cells most damaged from disease. After one year, the patients reported significant improvements in their symptoms and no serious side effects.

In Parkinson's disease, neurons that produce dopamine in certain brain areas deteriorate, impairing the body’s ability to coordinate movement. Most current treatments for Parkinson's disease aim to replace the lost dopamine. A decade ago, scientists discovered that GDNF stimulates the growth of dopamine-producing neurons.

"It's a major step forward," Gash said. "Instead of simply a drug that replaces dopamine, this actually gets at the heart of the problem, which is the degeneration of dopamine neurons."


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