Tapeworm drug shows promise for Parkinson's

Research supported by Parkinson's UK has identified a medicine used to treat tapeworm infections which could lead to new treatments for people with Parkinson's.

What the new research shows

Researchers at Cardiff and Dundee Universities have discovered that a drug called niclosamide increases the activity of a key protein, called PINK1, inside brain cells.

The team studied the effects of niclosamide, which is approved for treating tapeworm infections, and similar molecules on cells grown in a dish in the lab.

The research is published today in the journal ChemBioChem.

How activating PINK1 could slow Parkinson's

PINK1 is a protein found inside cells which plays an important role in recycling damaged mitochondria - the power houses of the cell.

Research has shown that damaged mitochondria build up inside affected brain cells in Parkinson's, and that mutations in the PINK1 gene cause a rare inherited form of the condition.

This suggests that increasing PINK1 activity could protect cells from damage. 

How could this lead to better treatments?

Professor David Dexter, Deputy Research Director at Parkinson's UK, comments:

"This important study has revealed that a drug already used to treat parasitic infections of the gut, niclosamide, can also elevate the protein PINK1.

“While the results are promising, we still have a long way to go. This research is at a very early stage, mainly involving cells in culture, and researchers have yet to test whether niclosamide is protective in animal models, much less humans.

“Further studies are also needed to determine whether it is safe to take niclosamide for prolonged periods: it is only given on a short-term basis to treat parasite infections in the gut, but if it is beneficial for people with Parkinson's, it would need to be administered on a long-term basis.”

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