Scientists at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the United States have found that it may be possible to treat Parkinson’s disease with anti-malaria drugs. The chemical structure shared by chloroquine and amodiaquine, the medicines used to treat malaria, enables them to bind and turn on Nurr 1, a class of proteins that guards the ability of the brain to produce dopamine.
Patients of Parkinson’s disease lose motor movements and eventually end up as cripples because the disease derails the brain’s ability to generate dopamine, a key neurotransmitter responsible for motor control and body movement.
Upon screening about 1,000 US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs the scientists discovered that the two anti-malaria drugs were in fact effective ate least in lab tests conducted on rats.
A leading Parkinson’s expert, Prof Kim said that the current methods of treating the disease with medicines, which replenish the levels of dopamine by deep-brain stimulation, which uses electric currents are effective only in the early stages of the disease. “Neither,” he noted “slows down or stops the disease process.”
The team is modifying the two drugs to be more potent while having fewer side effects. They are also finding new chemical compounds which could activate Nurr1. If all goes well, Assoc Prof Yoon estimates clinical trials could start in three to five years’ time. “Our research shows that existing drugs can be repurposed to treat other diseases and once several potential drugs are found, we can redesign them to be more effective in combating their targeted diseases while reducing side effects,” said the expert in drug discovery and design.