VAI Voice

The Official Blog of Van Andel Institute
5 Oct 2017

Miss Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease and Rallying to the Challenge? We have you covered.

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From exploring possible new treatments to discussing how people with Parkinson’s can influence research, last week’s Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease symposium and Rallying to the Challenge meeting tackled an impressive number of topics. Here are the main takeaways.

Energy metabolism plays a role in Parkinson’s
Scientists have long suspected problems with cellular energy production may play a role in Parkinson’s by causing breakdowns in the systems required to keep cells healthy.

Thought to be linked to a range of factors from genetic influence to inflammation, these disruptions ultimately cause trouble for the mitochondria, our cellular power plants, and lead to the buildup of toxic proteins that damage and kill brain cells.

Interest in this area has ebbed and flowed over time but recently, a series of discoveries have revitalized interest and led to new clinical trials aimed at slowing or stopping disease progression. Which leads us to…

Treatments for other diseases may be game-changers in Parkinson’s
Many of these efforts are looking at new uses for existing medications, including the diabetes drugs exenatide and liraglutide and the asthma medication salbutamol.

That’s because the diseases these drugs are designed to treat share many of the same underlying features found in Parkinson’s. By using medications that have already passed a rigorous gauntlet of safety tests, scientists have to potential to significantly shorten the time it takes for an effective therapy to get in the hands of patients.

Watch the Rallying to the Challenge Facebook live panel discussion with Prof. Tom Foltynie, Dr. Richard Wyse, Jillian Carson, Dr. David Simon and Dr. Patrik Brundin.

Exercise is incredibly important…
We all know exercise is good for us, but for people with Parkinson’s, its impact can be particularly beneficial. For example, people who exercise tend to retain better control of movement, experience less rigidity and have higher cognitive scores.

But why is this? Research suggests that it may be due to the brain more efficiently using dopamine, a chemical messenger that is greatly depleted in Parkinson’s.

…and diet may be as well
How we fuel our bodies through diet may affect risk for developing Parkinson’s disease. Ongoing research suggests that exercise and certain types of fasting may optimize brain function throughout a person’s life (although please remember that any major dietary changes should be made in consultation with a physician).

Involving people with Parkinson’s in research and clinical trial development is crucial
A dedicated group of people with Parkinson’s discussed some big issues as part of Rallying to the Challenge, including the implications of drug repurposing and the challenges associated with moving these drugs into clinical trials, differentiating between “hype versus hope,” and considering the factors that influence participation in research.

Here’s what they found:

  • It is vital that scientists and physicians conducting clinical trials demonstrate that the perspectives of people with Parkinson’s are critical in research.
  • Scientists and physicians must be clear about the implications of the research—how much is hype and how much is legitimate hope?
  • A roster of specific questions must be developed that will aid in decision making when it comes to research and drug repurposing.
  • Scientists and physicians conducting clinical trials must emphasize the importance of the study in the context of the wider Parkinson’s community.

 

Honoring excellence and life-changing contributions is an important reminder of how far we’ve come
Each year, the Institute honors a pioneering scientist who has made significant contributions to Parkinson’s research. This year’s Jay Van Andel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Parkinson’s Disease Research went to physician-scientist Dr. J. William Langston, whose groundbreaking work revolutionized the way Parkinson’s is studied. Read more about Dr. Langston’s achievements here.

In April, the Parkinson’s community lost Tom Isaacs, one of its greatest champions. As a person with Parkinson’s and co-founder of The Cure Parkinson’s Trust, Tom brought together scientists, physicians, companies and, critically, people with Parkinson’s to make a concerted effort for a cure.

To honor his memory, the Institute and the Trust were pleased to present Prof. Tom Foltynie of University College London with the inaugural Tom Isaacs Award. Prof. Foltynie’s clinical research on the diabetes drug exenatide is a critical step toward a potential new therapy that may slow the disease’s progression.

Want to stay up to date on news from Grand Challenges, including information on upcoming meetings? Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/grandchallengesinpd.