A promising molecule, called BT13, has offered hope for a new treatment that could stop or slow Parkinson’s, something no treatment can currently do.
Researchers from the University of Helsinki have found that molecule BT13 has the potential to both boost levels of dopamine, the chemical that is lost in Parkinson’s, as well as protecting the dopamine-producing brain cells from dying.
The results from the study, co-funded by Parkinson’s UK, showed an increase in dopamine levels in the brains of mice following treatment with the molecule. BT13 also activated a specific receptor in the mouse brains to protect the cells.
These findings suggest that BT13 could have the potential to lead to a new drug treatment that can slow, stop or even reverse the loss of brain cells in Parkinson’s.
Why is dopamine important?
Typically, by the time people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s, they have already lost 70-80 per cent of their dopamine-producing cells. These are involved in coordinating movement.
Current treatments mask the symptoms, but there is nothing that can slow down its progression or prevent more brain cells from being lost. As dopamine levels continue to fall, symptoms get worse and new symptoms can appear.
The role of BT13
Researchers are now working on improving the properties of BT13 to make it more effective as a potential treatment. If successful, this could benefit the 145,000 people living with Parkinson’s in the UK.
The study builds on previous research on another molecule that targets the same receptors in the brain, glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), an experimental treatment for Parkinson’s which was the subject of a major clinical trial funded by Parkinson’s UK. While the results were not clear cut, GDNF has shown promise to restore damaged cells in Parkinson’s.
The GDNF protein requires complex surgery to deliver the treatment to the brain because it’s a large molecule. However BT13, a smaller molecule, could be more easily administered as a treatment if shown to be beneficial in further clinical trials.
“The molecule holds great promise”
Professor David Dexter, Deputy Director of Research at Parkinson’s UK, said: “People with Parkinson’s desperately need a new treatment that can stop the condition in its tracks, instead of just masking the symptoms.
“One of the biggest challenges for Parkinson’s research is how to get drugs past the blood-brain barrier, so the exciting discovery of BT13 has opened up a new avenue for research to explore.”
Dr Yulia Sidorova, lead researcher on the study, said: “We are constantly working on improving the effectiveness of BT13 and we are now testing a series of similar BT13 compounds. Our ultimate goal is to progress these compounds to clinical trials.”
Parkinson’s UK is the largest charitable funder of Parkinson’s research in Europe. We’ve invested £93* million into researching Parkinson’s and treatments since 1969.
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* Correct at time of publication.