West Michigan scientists find hope in slowing Parkinson’s disease

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- We know the famous faces of those who've suffered from Parkinson's disease, such as Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox.

They and an estimated 1 million others in the U.S have been hoping for a cure, or at least progress in fighting the debilitating condition.

Scientists at Van Andel Institute (VAI) say they're making progress, with the most promising development they've seen to date.

The only treatments for Parkinson's target symptoms but do not stop it's rapid progression. But according to researchers, a drug developed for type 2 diabetes is quickly giving them new hope in slowing down the effects of Parkinson's.

After four and a half years of trial and error, Dr. Patrik Brundin says researchers are edging closer to a cure. "You could say that this is a pure Michigan project which is…exciting," said Brundin, director of Van Andel Research Institute’s Center for Neurodegenerative Science.

"I think the effects we’ve seen in the laboratory are consistent and very profound," he said. "We think it could potentially work."

Dr. Brundin, senior laboratory manager Dr. Jennifer Steiner, and others from VAI are collaborating with Kalamazoo's Metabolic Solutions Development Company in their research. VAI researchers started the relationship when they came to believe a drug the company was developing, MSDC-0160, for diabetes might work against Parkinson's disease.

Dr. Brundin says there are similarities between diabetes and Parkinson’s at the molecular level and new data shows the new drug preserves critical brain function in laboratory models of Parkinson's.

"Careful planning and careful organizing I think will increase the chances of us observing what we hope to observe," Dr. Steiner said.

Scientists first tested the drug in cultured cells, later in worms and mice. Now, scientists want to start testing the drug in humans.

"Have to make sure it’s safe," Dr. Brundin said. "We have to make sure the drug gets into the brain."

It's a big deal, because until now treatments for Parkinson's focused solely on symptom management. If the upcoming human trials are successful, MSDC-0160 would become the world's first therapy that treats Parkinson's disease.

It's an advancement that's near and dear to Dr. Brundin's heart. His late father had Parkinson's disease.

"We have to remain optimistic," Dr. Brundin said.

Of course, we were curious as to how much this research is costing Van Andel Research Institute. Right now, they can't disclose an exact amount but did tell FOX 17 that developing a drug that affects brain function usually costs anywhere between $1 billion to $1.5 billion dollars.

Researchers plan to start human trials next year.

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