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Natural molecule with promise for Parkinson's discovered

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Research results, published in the scientific journal PNAS, have highlight the potential of a natural molecule to tackle Parkinson's.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge studied the ability of a naturally occurring steroid, called squalamine, to prevent the build-up of toxic clumps of alpha-synuclein.

The findings could lead to potential new avenues to slow the progression of the condition. Clinical trials are already being considered.

Targeting toxic alpha-synuclein

Alpha-synuclein is a protein that naturally occurs in our brain cells. In Parkinson's, it becomes misshapen and forms sticky clumps that are believed to be toxic to brain cells.

The team demonstrated that in brain cells grown in a dish and a worm model of Parkinson's, squalamine prevented the first steps in the chain reaction that causes these sticky clumps to form.

While we don't know yet if the molecule can get into the brain to have positive effects on the cells lost in Parkinson's, it has previously been tested in clinical trials for cancer and eye conditions. 

The researchers hope that the natural molecule, which was originally discovered in dogfish sharks, will lead to the development of more effective drugs that can target toxic alpha-synuclein to stop Parkinson's in its tracks.

A hopeful route to new treatments

Claire Bale, Head of Research Communications at Parkinson's UK, comments:

"Large, sticky clumps of alpha-synuclein, called Lewy bodies, are a classic feature of Parkinson's, and are found inside the brain cells that are gradually lost throughout the course of the condition.

"Preventing the formation of Lewy bodies is one of the most hopeful routes to new treatments that can slow, stop or reverse the condition, and makes the discovery that squalamine may be able to do this especially promising. 

"However, while this research is an important step in the right direction, there is much to learn about how squalamine works in the human body before we will know if it has any benefits for people living with Parkinson's."