Zebra finches and Parkinson’s-related vocal problems. “Designer neurons” as potential treatments. Bicycles and electrical stimulation. 3D-printed holograms and the blood-brain barrier. A tractor trip to raise awareness. A 22-year-old’s innovative Parkinson’s detector. Here’s what’s new in the world of Parkinson’s this month.
- A team of researchers has identified for the first time a subtype of brain cells that die in people with Parkinson’s. Using a recently developed single-cell RNA technique that sequences individual cells in a given tissue sample, the team was able to identify which genes in cells in the substantia nigra were producing proteins, then categorize them into 10 subtypes. They then performed the same type of RNA sequencing on samples from 10 people who had been living with Parkinson’s or Lewy body dementia at the time of their death. They compared samples from both groups and identified one of the reduced brain cell subtypes in the samples from people with Parkinson’s, which they say strongly suggests that it is the brain cell most affected in Parkinson’s. The study was published in Nature Neuroscience.
- Another study published in Nature Neuroscience, led by researchers at the University of North Carolina, suggests that stimulating the production of adult-born neurons may help minimize cognitive complications like those associated with Parkinson’s. The team found that activating new neurons in the brain’s hippocampus region by stimulating a particular group of cells in the hypothalamus region led to better memory performance in mice.
- Researchers at Kobe University and Hiroshima University have developed a biomarker that can quickly and inexpensively diagnosis Parkinson’s using blood serum samples. Using a “P450 inhibition assay,” the team was able to identify Parkinson’s with an accuracy rate of 85~88% in both model rat subjects and human participants. The research was published in Scientific Reports.
- In a longitudinal study published in Cortex by researchers from Forschungszentrum Jülich, Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, and Ernst-von-Bergmann Klinikum Potsdam, data showed that the brain volumes of 37 people with Parkinson’s declined almost twice as quickly as those of the control group. The analysis also showed that as the volume of cortical areas, amygdala, and basal forebrain in people with Parkinson’s decreased, clinical symptoms worsened.
- A proof-of-concept study led by Jeffrey Kordower from the Arizona State University-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center explains how researchers were able to convert non-neuronal cells into functioning neurons that could form synapses, dispense dopamine, and restore functioning previously lost due to neuronal death. The team found that when implanted into the brains of rats, one group of the engineered cells performed optimally in terms of survival, growth, neural connectivity, and dopamine production. The study was published in Nature Regenerative Medicine.
- By studying song production and vocalizations of zebra finches, neuroscientists at the University of Arizona found a correlation between vocal changes and alpha-synuclein, a protein linked to Parkinson’s. Birds who received the alpha-synuclein gene sang less after two months than birds who did not receive the gene, and their vocalizations were also softer and shorter. The researchers believe their findings, which more conclusively support the correlation than previous studies have, may help lead to earlier diagnoses. The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.
- Researchers at Oxford Parkinson’s Disease Centre, part of Oxford University, published a study in the journal Brain that explores how a spinal fluid test can detect Parkinson’s years before symptoms emerge. The test involved taking samples of spinal fluid using a needle inserted into the lower back to look for signs of alpha-synuclein, which is “released in sticky clumps” in the brain and spinal fluid when Parkinson’s is first developing. The team hopes the test will lead to earlier diagnoses and treatment.
- In an attempt to better understand how the novel coronavirus could increase the risk of Parkinson’s, researchers at Thomas Jefferson University and New York University used a novel mouse model in which mice were exposed to a dose of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that corresponded with a mild COVID-19 infection in humans. The mice were then injected with a chemical called MPTP, which has long been used to simulate Parkinson’s-like neurodegeneration in animal models. Based on their findings, the team speculates that “neuroinflammation triggered by a SARS-CoV-2 infection could make certain neurons more vulnerable to subsequent attack, heightening a person’s Parkinson’s risk.” They emphasized, however, that much more research in this area needs to be done to fully understand the connection between the virus and the risk of developing Parkinson’s. The study was published in Movement Disorders.
- Also published in Movement Disorders, a study by researchers at the University of Cambridge explains how ultra-powerful 7T MRI scanners can help identify apathy and cognitive complications in people with Parkinson’s. These MRI scanners are able to detect deterioration in the brain’s locus coeruleus region, which is associated with increased apathy and cognitive problems in Parkinson’s. The researchers believe that being able to identify people with Parkinson’s who show significant locus coeruleus degeneration will allow them to personalize treatment for these individuals using noradrenaline-boosting drugs.
- A large-scale European genetic analysis published in Nature Parkinson’s Disease found no causal relationship between Parkinson’s and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or its major subtypes, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- In a paper published in Neurobiology of Disease, researchers explain how stem-cell-derived, three-dimensional “BrainSpheres” may be a promising new model to study the mechanisms of Parkinson’s.
- In a rat model of Parkinson’s, researchers at the Poznań University of Medical Sciences in Poland found that concentrated cranberry juice decreased Parkinson’s symptoms and provided a neuroprotective effect. The team says more research is needed to determine an optimal dose of a cranberry juice concentrate for neuroprotective benefits.
- FUJIFILM Cellular Dynamics, Inc., recently launched iCell DopaNeurons, which feature LRRK2 and GBA gene mutations (two mutations linked to Parkinson’s) and may help researchers develop and advance new Parkinson’s therapies. The stem cells were collected from people with Parkinson’s involved in the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) through the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF).
- A study published in Neuroscience Letters found that two indicators of systemic inflammation, blood levels of c-reactive protein (CRP) and the lymphocyte-to-monocyte ratio (LMR), were associated with the presence of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder (RBD) in people with Parkinson’s. The study also found that people with RBD had more cognitive symptoms than those who did not.
- Twenty-two-year-old Erin Smith has been nominated as a finalist in the inaugural Young Inventors prize, presented by the European Patent Office, for her AI-powered app that enables early detection of Parkinson’s. Smith developed an algorithm that analyzes videos of facial expressions to pick up minute indicators of early-onset Parkinson’s, with approximately 95% accuracy.
PARKINSON’S treatments and THERAPIES
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted 510(k) clearance to MYOLYN for the company’s second version of the MyoCycle, a functional electrical stimulation (FES) bike designed for people with motor complications. The bike benefits people with Parkinson’s in several ways, not only through the physical act of cycling but also through bursts of small electrical charges, which target certain muscle groups and help muscles move and contract.
- AbbVie has submitted a New Drug Application (NDA) to the FDA for their Parkinson’s therapy ABBV-951, designed to provide a first-of-its-kind, continuous subcutaneous delivery of carbidopa/levodopa. The submission is based on results from a Phase 3, head-to-head, randomized and controlled clinical trial that demonstrated statistically significant improvement in ON times, without troublesome dyskinesia, compared to oral immediate-release carbidopa/levodopa.
- Researchers from the Universitat Politècnica de València, the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), and Columbia University have used 3D printing technology to develop holograms that can selectively, efficiently, and inexpensively open the blood brain barrier to administer treatments for neurological conditions like Parkinson’s. The research was published in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering.
- In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), scientists at Boston University and the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT provide a physiology-based explanation of the underlying circuit dynamics of deep brain stimulation (DBS) that may lead to improvements in the therapy.
- Findings from a study by researchers at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine suggest that physical exercise helps manage Parkinson’s symptoms by increasing levels of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which in turn helps with the release of dopamine. The paper was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
- The New York Times published a feature about the many benefits of no-contact boxing for people with Parkinson’s.
- A wearable device called CUE1, developed by Charco Neurotech may help manage Parkinson’s symptoms by delivering a rhythmic pattern of vibrations that produce nerve signals which travel to the wearer’s brain and reduce beta-frequency activity in the motor cortex and subthalamic nucleus. Small clinical trials of the device have produced promising results, and a larger-scale clinical trial will be conducted soon in partnership with Queen Mary University of London.
- Statistical analyses of data from 1,765,800 people with Parkinson’s who were admitted to a hospital from 2010 to 2017 found that those who reported side effects from their Parkinson’s medications were significantly more likely to require a blood transfusion. Given these findings, the researchers recommend that people with Parkinson’s receive frequent digestive and blood screenings to reduce medication-related complications. The research was published in Neurological Sciences.
- A study published in Molecules by researchers in Brazil and France suggests that nanoparticles that simultaneously deliver levodopa and curcumin (the compound with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties found naturally in turmeric) directly to the brain may be effective at treating Parkinson’s and may reduce OFF times by providing more stable dopamine levels.
- Another study investigating curcumin as a Parkinson’s treatment, recently published in Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery, found that while it was well tolerated by study participants living with Parkinson’s, curcumin as an add-on therapy was not found to improve their quality of life or ease their symptoms.
- Asceneuron, a clinical-stage company dedicated to targeting the root causes of neurodegenerative diseases, has been awarded a second grant from MJFF to accelerate the study of its clinical-stage O-GlcNAcase (OGA) inhibitor ASN51 as a potential new treatment for Parkinson’s.
- Aspen Neuroscience, a biotechnology company working to develop the world’s first cell replacement therapy for Parkinson’s that uses an individual’s own cells, recently earned $147.5 million from investors in its second funding round.
A randomized, double-blind, controlled Phase 2 study found that foliglurax therapy did not improve levodopa-induced Parkinson’s motor symptoms.
PARKINSON’S LIVING WELL STORIES
- Richard Williams, who has been living with Parkinson’s for almost 20 years, shares how playing the piano for others gives him the “courage to keep going.”
- After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2002, editorial cartoonist Peter Dunlap-Shohl turned to computers to help him do his work and published a graphic novel documenting his life with Parkinson’s.
- To raise awareness about Parkinson’s, Mike Adkinson will tow by a tractor a small trailer with a banner of information about Parkinson’s and a QR code that people can scan to learn more. He hopes to talk to people along his journey from Washington to Minnesota about Parkinson’s symptoms, treatments, and research to help make others, and himself, more knowledgeable about the movement disorder.
- Justin Fields, who was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson’s (YOPD) at age 36, is working to raise Parkinson’s awareness and will attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro this fall to spread awareness of YOPD.
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. For more details, contact Katherine Balfany at SPARX3@ucdenver.edu.
- 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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