The team from Northwestern University in Chicago investigated the effects of isradipine, a calcium channel blocker, in mice genetically engineered to have a Parkinson-like disease. The results of their study have been published in the journal Nature.
Lead researcher Professor James Surmeier reported that mice treated with isradipine resisted becoming ill and their dopamine-producing cells began to function as if they were younger.
The research team found that dopamine cells work in two distinct ways. When the cells are young they use sodium ions to produce electrical signals. However, as the cells become older, calcium ions are used. Calcium ions are potentially dangerous for cells and need to be pumped out efficiently. This requires large amounts of energy and Professor Surmeier believes this is why the cells die.
Professor Surmeier said: 'Our hope is that this drug will protect dopamine neurons, so that if you began taking it early enough you won't get Parkinson's disease, even if you were at risk. It would be like taking a baby aspirin every day to protect your heart.'
Using isradipine, or a similar calcium channel blocker, would also enable doctors to extend the potential therapeutic window of L-DOPA, the principal therapy for patients with Parkinson's disease.
The research is of particular importance as nothing has been known to prevent or slow the progression of Parkinson's disease. 'There has not been a major advance in the pharmacological management of Parkinson's disease for 30 years,' said Professor Surmeier.
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