Nightmares as an early sign of Parkinson’s. Alpha-synuclein’s “double life.” The latest on iron levels and Parkinson’s. WHO’s new technical brief on Parkinson’s. New research on the links between the gut and Parkinson’s. And much, much more. Here’s what’s new in the world of Parkinson’s this month.
- A study by researchers at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center published in the journal Movement Disorders found that the accumulation of iron in the substantia nigra region of the brain did not contribute to the development or progression of Parkinson’s. The team used noninvasive, iron-detecting MRIs to examine brain iron deposits in 18 people newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s who had not begun treatment and 87 people living with more advanced Parkinson’s. A control group of 78 people without Parkinson’s served as the control group. The findings are inconsistent with the current hypothesis that higher levels of iron in the substantia nigra lead to the development of Parkinson’s and the belief that increased iron levels lead to Parkinson’s progression.
- Neuroscientists at MIT have identified three distinct circuits in the brain’s thalamus that influence the development of motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s. The team also found that manipulating these circuits allowed them to reverse Parkinson’s symptoms in mice. The study was published in Nature.
- In a mouse model of Parkinson’s, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine identified a chemical compound that stops the final events in the pathway linked to the death of brain cells in Parkinson’s. They believe the findings, published in the journal Cell, could advance the development of a drug that can safely short-circuit the same pathway in people and prevent the damaging effects characteristic of Parkinson’s, stroke, and other neurodegenerative conditions.
- Another study published in Cell, led by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT details an unanticipated connection between alpha-synuclein (a well-known protein marker for Parkinson’s) and cytosolic mRNA processing bodies (P-bodies), which may have important implications for Parkinson’s and related conditions. The research, which uncovered a new function for alpha-synuclein, suggests that the protein is “leading a double life,” the study’s corresponding author writes.
- Also in Cell, a study by researchers at the University of Michigan explains that the mutated protein TMEM175 is a genetic risk factor for Parkinson’s because it interferes with the regulation of pH levels inside the lysosomes of certain cells.
- In a study involving 428 people newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s who had not begun taking any Parkinson’s medications, data showed that premorbid cancer has a positive influence on motor reserve in people with Parkinson’s and provided evidence that a history of cancer has a protective effect on striatal dopamine in Parkinson’s. The findings support earlier studies that have suggested that people with Parkinson’s have a lower risk than the general population of developing certain kinds of cancer. The recent study was published in Scientific Reports.
- Also published in Scientific Reports, a paper by scientists at IIT Roorkee in India explains how the team has developed a dopamine sensor that can identify neurological conditions like schizophrenia and Parkinson’s at an early stage by detecting changes in dopamine levels in the brain.
- A study led by a researcher at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Human Brain Health in the UK tracked 3,818 older men for more than a decade and found an association between frequent distressing dreams and an increased risk for Parkinson’s. Participants who self-reported having frequent distressing dreams were two times more likely to develop Parkinson’s over a 12-year period. The research was published in eClinicalMedicine.
- A five-year observational study by researchers at the University of Turin in Italy found an association between impaired heart rate (a non-motor autonomic symptom) and worse health outcomes after five years, including dementia, motor complications, and overall quality of life. The study was published in the Journal of Neurology.
- A June Physician’s Weekly article highlighted research suggesting that exposure to air pollution can increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s.
- A study published in Brain Communications found an association between small-scale brain alterations in people with Parkinson’s and worse bimanual coordination, a type of complex movement. Researchers Germany used diffusion MRIs to observe whether microstructural changes in the brain contribute to bimanual coordination impairments and found that certain changes in the brain’s white matter tracts and gray matter were linked to worse bimanual coordination.
- The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave approval to Rune Labs, a start-up based in San Francisco, to use the Apple Watch to gather individual data about tremors and other symptoms from people with Parkinson’s in order to provide their clinicians with more reliable assessments of a their symptoms and to personalize their treatment plans.
- A study published in Molecular Psychiatry led by a researcher in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo explains how researchers succeeded in differentiating human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to A9 dopamine neurons (A9 DA), whose degeneration causes motor symptoms in Parkinson’s. The A9 DA neurons’ pacemaking property, the paper explains, is very important to their function and underlies their vulnerability in Parkinson’s. The researchers believe the ability to generate person-specific A9 DA autonomous pacemakers could significantly improve Parkinson’s research and facilitate the development of disease-modifying therapies.
- This month, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a technical brief titled “Parkinson disease: a public health approach,” which outlines the global burden, treatment gaps, crucial areas for intervention, and more as a result of growing prevalence of Parkinson’s worldwide.
- The healthcare technology company Koneksa will collaborate with Northwestern University for a study to evaluate a measurement tool designed to objectively quantify the severity of symptoms related to Parkinson’s, including vocal impairments.
- In a study published in Experimental Biology and Medicine, researchers from Perron Institute for Neurological and Translational Science and Murdoch University in Australia provide evidence highlighting the important role introns play in regulating cell function. The findings suggest that alterations in the nascent transcription of introns may be biomarkers that can predict both risk and progression of Parkinson’s.
- A study published in Neuroscience Letters suggests that studying levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in people with Parkinson’s could help clinicians determine if the person is experiencing non-motor symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and cognitive decline.
- Neurology Today explores the reasons why telemedicine has not bridged the rural-urban divide in health outcomes.
- Researchers at Stellenbosch University in South Africa found that people of African ancestry in South Africa who are living with Parkinson’s have more copies of mitochondrial DNA within their cells than people of similar ancestry without Parkinson’s have. These findings contradict previous reports of mtDNA depletion in the blood of people with Parkinson’s. The researchers believe that larger studies may help determine whether mtDNA-CN is consistently altered in the blood of people with Parkinson’s across different ancestries and whether mtDNA-CN can serve as a useful biomarker. The study was published in Parkinsonism and Related Disorders.
- A study published in Movement Disorders identifies two new mutations in the LRRK2 gene deemed to be likely causes of familial Parkinson’s.
- Analyzing apparent vocal tract length (VTL) may allow researchers to detect Parkinson’s-impacted speech, even by telephone, a study published in Scientific Reports suggests. Researchers from RMIT University in Australia who analyzed vocal data from two different datasets found that that VTL-based analyses differentiated people with Parkinson’s from controls with an overall accuracy of 84.3% in the first database and 96% in the second.
- Findings from a study published in npj Parkinson’s Disease suggest that dysregulation of renin-angiotensin system (RAS) autoantibodies may contribute to the progression of Parkinson’s. The study, led by researchers in Spain, builds on previous research that has shown how the RAS is involved in the progression of Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative conditions promoting oxidative stress and neuroinflammation. The researchers believe that therapies that block the production or the effects of RAS autoantibodies may be useful in treating Parkinson’s.
- In a small study investigating the connections between gut microbiomes and Parkinson’s, scientists at Rush University Medical Center found that people with Parkinson’s had significantly higher levels of the gut bacterial metabolite trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) than people without Parkinson’s. The findings, which were published in Neurobiology of Disease, suggest that gut bacterial-derived metabolites could serve as Parkinson’s biomarkers and potential therapeutic targets.
- A team of experts explores whether statistics about race and Parkinson’s prevalence are misleading.
- With the help of a $100,000 grant, researchers at Mount Sinai in New York will investigate the biological reasons a comorbidity exists between melanoma and Parkinson’s.
PARKINSON’S treatments and THERAPIES
- Findings from a small study published in the Journal of Voice showed that resonance tube voice therapy improved loudness and other vocal measures in people with Parkinson’s. During the therapy, one end of a hollow glass tube is submerged in a container of water, and the person with Parkinson’s practices vocalizing into the tube. After the four-week trial, loudness scores had increased significantly, as had the quality of life of trial participants.
- The experimental drug DNL201, designed to inhibit LRRK2 (a gene closely linked to Parkinson’s), was found to reduce LRRK2 levels in the blood and restore lysosomal function in cellular and animal models. During a 28-day trial, DNL201 was given to rats, macaque monkeys, and 150 human participants and was found to reduced Rab levels and boost lysosomal function in animals. The drug was well tolerated by 122 human participants without Parkinson’s and 28 people with Parkinson’s; no signs of lung or kidney problems or other side effects were found. Although the early-stage clinical trial was not designed to assess whether the compound was effective in slowing the progression of Parkinson’s, the researchers believe the findings are a huge step forward. The study was published in Science Translational Medicine.
- At the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, Neurocrine Biosciences presented findings from post-hoc analyses that were conducted using baseline data from two previous Phase 3 studies of ONGENTYS (opicapone) capsules, an approved once-daily adjunctive treatment to carbidopa/levodopa in people with Parkinson’s who experience OFF times. Data showed that approximately one-third of people with Parkinson’s who participated in two Phase 3 trials experienced an OFF episode before going to sleep. Data also showed that most of those who woke up during the night were in an OFF state when they awoke. Reducing OFF times before and during the night may help improve sleep and overall quality of life, the researchers believe. The oral presentation’s abstract was published in the journal Sleep.
- The biotechnology company Biogen and Alectos Therapeutics have entered into a license and collaboration agreement to develop and commercialize the GBA2 inhibitor called AL01811, which has first-in-class potential as an oral disease-modifying treatment for Parkinson’s.
- De Oro Devices has raised $2.8 million to commercialize its NexStride portable gadget, designed to help people with Parkinson’s minimize, overcome, and prevent freezing episodes. The multi-cue, daily assist mobility device attaches to any standard cane, walker, or walking pole and provides on-demand cues to help people avoid falls.
- Inhibikase has opened enrollment for its Phase 2a study of the Parkinson’s drug candidate IkT-148009.
- Researchers at the Brigham and Harvard Medical School who are investigating how to rebalance fatty acid metabolism in the brain in order to find new therapies for Parkinson’s have identified LIPE, a lipase that degrades triglycerides to produce fatty acids, as a potential new candidate therapeutic target.
- A yearlong study involving more than 100 people with Parkinson’s who have received deep brain stimulation (DBS) reported that people who receive stimulation in the medial and ventral subthalmic nucleus are more likely to develop mania as a side effect. The findings, published in the Annals of Neurology, suggest that the side effect can be managed by changing the location of the stimulation and making certain medication adjustments after the procedure.
- Zhittya Genesis Medicine, Inc., announced this month that during the 30-day examination of the research study investigating their FGF-1 biological drug candidate, participants showed a 50% improvement in motor skills. The study is investigating the FGF-1 drug candidate in conjunction with a intranasal delivery device, which allows the medication to reach the brain through the intranasal route instead of the intravenous route. No negative side effects have been reported. Additional examinations will occur at 60 days and 90 days post-treatment to assess any adverse events that may have appeared and to document any continued progress towards treating Parkinson’s motor symptoms.
- Through a new partnership, Gerresheimer and the medical start-up Adamant Health will collaborate to develop measuring technology and a platform that can determine the optimal time for a person with Parkinson’s to take their medications for maximum symptom relief.
- Though it wasn’t specific to Parkinson’s medications, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that the federal government spends more that $115 billion per year on prescription drugs through Medicare, and that they could save taxpayers billions of dollars by switching to Mark Cuban’s low-cost pharmacy to buy generic drugs for Medicare.
PARKINSON’S LIVING WELL STORIES
- In an interview with Being Patient, Parkinson’s expert Bastiaan Bloem discussed the recent paper “The Silver Linings of Parkinson’s Disease” and how now is a time of hope for the Parkinson’s community.
- This month, Michael J. Fox was awarded an honorary Oscar for his outstanding achievements in Parkinson’s advocacy.
- Taylor Dewey, a United States Naval Officer, is currently attempting to kayak the entire length of the Ohio River to raise money for Parkinson’s research.
Rise Above Parkinson’s, Inc., a nonprofit whose mission is to help people living with Parkinson’s access the services and support they need to rise above their diagnosis, provides financial grants to assist with medical co-payments, safety equipment (walkers, canes, medical alert systems), non-insured services like massage therapy, and more. The organization currently helps US citizens/permanent residents whose primary residence is in the state of Florida, though they hope to grow to provide assistance throughout the US. If you are a person with Parkinson’s who lives in Florida and would like more information, visit riseaboveparkinsons.org.
PARKINSON’S SURVEYS, CLINICAL TRIALS, and volunteer opportunities
- PD GENEration – The Parkinson’s Foundation has announced a major expansion of its national study to make genetic testing and counseling more available for people with Parkinson’s. The study (NCT04057794) hopes to enroll 15,000 people in all 50 US states, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Details are available here. For questions about enrollment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative – In an expanded study, the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) is currently working to enroll up to 100,000 people with and without Parkinson’s. The study team is especially seeking to enroll people diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the past two years and who are not yet on treatment, as well as people 60 and older who aren’t living with Parkinson’s but have a risk factor for it (such as a close relative with Parkinson’s, a known Parkinson’s-associated mutation, and/or REM sleep behavior disorder). The observational study is also enrolling people with no known connection to Parkinson’s to serve as a control group. Learn more here.
- TOPAZ (Trial of Parkinson’s and Zoledronic Acid) – Caroline Tanner, MD, PhD, is recruiting participants for a new remote clinical trial led by a team of Parkinson’s experts at UCSF in partnership with researchers from across the country. The goal of the study is to help people with Parkinson’s or parkinsonism maintain their independence by reducing the risk of hip fractures. The study will test if zoledronate, an FDA-approved medication for osteoporosis, can prevent fractures in people with Parkinson’s, whether or not they have osteoporosis. To learn more, visit the study website at TOPAZstudy.org, email TOPAZ@ucsf.edu, or call (415) 317-5748.
- Join Google and LSVT in Project Euphonia – LSVT Global has partnered with Google on an exciting research project called Project Euphonia to help improve automatic speech recognition software for people with speech disorders. These disorders may make using devices like Google Home, The Nest, and other Smart devices, Siri, Alexa, or speech-to-text frustrating. To do this, LSVT Global needs samples of disordered speech to train the system. If you’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, PSP, MSA, or CBD with mild, moderate, or severe speech disorders, you are encouraged to enroll. Participation is easy, can be done from your own home, and can earn you a $60 gift card! Learn more here.
- G2019S LRRK2 Parkinson’s: Increasing Awareness and Genetic Testing Program – This program aims to support the development of precision medicine intended to treat people with genetic forms of Parkinson’s. Up to 15% of cases of Parkinson’s disease have an underlying genetic cause, yet many people have never had genetic testing. This research program will be very important in supporting the future development of a new oral precision medicine treatment for one of the most common genetic forms of Parkinson’s, aimed at slowing its progression. To learn more, visit geneticpd.com.
- A PD Avengers research group is undertaking a new project called Sparks of Experience, designed to be more systematic about collecting and considering the experiences and ideas that come from the curious minds of people living with Parkinson’s. “In the past, these sometimes quirky ideas inspired by lived experience have turned into significant new directions for research. It could be said we are trying to capture serendipity,” the team says. To learn more and get involved, see the flyer here.
- Game-based Exercise Project – Researchers at the University of Auckland are investigating how games can be used as potential systems of rehabilitation. This project aims to develop suitable game-based exercise experiences to help people living with Parkinson’s. If you are 45 or older, and living with a chronic condition such as Parkinson’s, and/or are experiencing age-related health conditions, you are invited to participate in a survey that will help the researchers to understand the community’s interests in games and gameplay in the context of exercise and rehabilitation. To learn more and take the 15-minute survey, see the flyer here.
- SPARX3 – A Phase 3 Clinical Trial about Exercise and Parkinson’s – This research team is currently seeking volunteers to participate in a clinical trial about the effects of aerobic exercise on people with Parkinson’s. Learn more and see if you qualify here. The study is being conducted at 28 locations across the country.
- Do you have early-stage Parkinson’s? The Orchestra Study is a clinical research study to evaluate the use of an investigational medication called UCB0599 in men and women with early-stage Parkinson’s. You can learn more and see if you qualify here.
- PAIRing Up – If you are a person with Parkinson’s or a care partner to someone with Parkinson’s, you are invited to participate in an online survey to address neuropsychiatric (cognition, depression, anxiety) concerns in Parkinson’s. The survey aims to learn about the needs and priorities for clinical care, education, support, and research related to neuropsychiatric symptoms. To learn more and participate, click here to download the flyer.
- A multidisciplinary research team in the UK is investigating how to best use music to help people with Parkinson’s manage symptoms related to movement and mood. This includes research about music for dancing and is the first study to incorporate the new Dance Sophistication Index for people with Parkinson’s. To learn more and take a 30-minute survey, click here.
- The University of Oulu and collaborators from Aalborg University, Fraunhofer University, the University of Manchester, the University of Glasgow, the University of Lisbon, and the University of Melbourne, are conducting a survey for people with Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s care partners about self-care. Complete the survey here to share your self-care strategies and techniques. You can also review ideas submitted by others and add them to your own self-care toolbox.
- Home-based Exercise and Cognitive Behavior Therapy – University of Alabama in Huntsville
- Speech and Telemedicine Study – The Purdue Motor Speech Lab
- Parkinson’s and Service Dogs – University of Groningen, Netherlands
- Neurology Study Interest Registry – University of Rochester
- Park Test – University of Rochester
For more of what’s new in Parkinson’s news, check out our full series here.
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