ASU begins 3 new Parkinson’s treatment studies

The Michael J. Fox Foundation has awarded three new grants totaling $5.2 million to Arizona state university to explore three pioneering treatments for Parkinson’s disease. We spoke to Jeffrey H. Kordower, director of the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center, who is leading the projects.

Two of the treatments focus on correcting the loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the brain

According to Kordower, the first method will involve the transplant of healthy dopamine-producing stem cells into the patient in a joint effort between ASU, Banner Health, and Barrow Neurological Institute.

“The second grant is taking a slightly different approach. We want more dopamine, but instead of putting in new cells, we’re converting the cells that are already there,” Kordower said. “And there are studies in lower animals that these are functional but we are gonna do this in animals closer to humans to see if we can convert these cells, make them grow, and replace the dopamine.”

The third possible treatment is a gene therapy that attacks the disease from a different direction. Instead of focusing on dopamine production, this method will attempt to address another part of Parkinson’s Disease: the accumulation of misfolded proteins in the brain.

“A normal protein in the brain called alpha-synuclein becomes changed in shape, and that change in shape becomes toxic to the cells,” Kordower said. “So if we clear that away, the cells can function better.”

These new methods are part of what Kordower referred to as “precision medicine,” where particular treatments are selected based on exactly how a disease affects an individual person.

“This patient may be treated in this way, while another patient, who still has Parkinson’s, may have a different form, and we’ll treat it in a different way. That’s a big effort right now in the community,” Kordower said.

 

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Jeffrey H. Kordower, director of the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center

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