News Feature | April 10, 2014

Northwestern, University Of Rochester Receive Funds To Research Parkinson's Disease Treatments

By Marcus Johnson

Northwestern University and University of Rochester were awarded a $23 million grant to conduct research on Parkinson's disease. The grant was awarded by the National Institutes of Health, and the research will focus on the effects of the drug isradipine on Parkinson’s disease. Isradipine has already been approved by the FDA to treat high blood pressure, and researchers have found that patients taking the inexpensive drug to treat high blood pressure have a lower incidence of Parkinson's. Similarly, because isradipine is a calcium channel blocker and inhibits certain cellular functions, researchers expect it could help contribute to the death of dopamince-producing cells in the brain—a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease.

The new clinical trial — STEADY-PD3 — will help researchers determine if isradipine can slow the effects of the disease. The research will be carried out by the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine in a partnership with the University of Rochester Medical Center. The study will recruit over 300 individuals from 56 Parkinson Study Group centers located in North America. These patients will be followed for three years.

Tanya Simuni, the medical director of Northwestern University's Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center, will co-lead the study with the University of Rochester's Dentistry neurologist Kevin Biglan. “If this drug proves to be safe and effective, it will change the way we treat Parkinson’s disease,” said Simuni. “The major advantage is isradipine is already widely available and inexpensive and will allow for rapid translation of our research into clinical practice. Although we now have very effective symptomatic treatments to manage Parkinson’s, the development of a disease-modifying intervention remains the Holy Grail.”

Biglan agreed, and said that isradipine could potentially better a patient's quality of life. “Isradipine has been demonstrated to be safe and tolerable in patients with Parkinson’s disease,” said Biglan. “This new study will determine whether the drug can be an effective tool in slowing the progression of the disease and could, thereby, complement existing symptomatic treatments and improve the quality of life of individuals with the disease.”

While tools to manage the disease’s symptoms do exist, there are currently no treatments that can effectively slow the deterioration of function brought about by the disease. Researchers believe that, when coupled with existing medications, disease modifying approaches — called neuroprotection — could help slow the disease and keep patients functioning at a high level.