MSU research builds tight relationships in search of Parkinson's cure
Caryl Sortwell didn’t have any first-hand experience with Parkinson’s disease when she began her research, but the relationships she’s made since then have kept her motivated to work toward a cure.
Sortwell, an MSU professor in translational science and molecular medicine, is working with the school’s College of Human Medicine, Van Andel Research Institute and the Translational Genomics Research Institute to see if the drug Fasudil could not only deal with the symptoms of Parkinson’s, but treat the progression of the disease as well.
The team’s work is being sponsored in-part by a $400,000 grant from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, part of $2.4 million in funding given by the foundation to fund nine research teams across the nation.
“(Patients aren’t) what drove me to do this research, but (they’re) what keep me going,” she said. “Interacting with patients and getting a reality check on how devastating this can be certainly motivates me to continue research.”
Dr. David Kaufman treats patients with Parkinson’s at Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital and said current forms of treatment are limited to medications, such as Sinemet, that replace Levodopa, a chemical the brain stops producing because of the disease.
Unfortunately, these treatments aren’t able to maintain effectiveness over time, said Kaufman, the chairman of neurology at MSU and director of Sparrow’s Neurologic Centers of Excellence.
“Over a period of time, the usefulness will become less, and sometimes the value of the medication becomes less and less as time goes on,” he said. “Getting out of bed or doing simple things like eating breakfast or walking down steps may be a major chore because the muscles become so rigid.”
Fasudil previously has been used to treat cardiac and vascular conditions and already has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, making it much easier to become available to Parkinson’s patients should it prove effective, Sortwell said.
“There’s normally years and years where you’re showing the safety profile is okay and working to get FDA approval, but because this drug has already been proven safe, the project will be able to move quicker,” she said. “If we have positive results, they could do a clinical trial immediately.”
The partnership with Van Andel Research Institute makes sense for the university because of MSU’s medical facilities in the Grand Rapids area, associate professor and head of the laboratory systems biology Jeff MacKeigan said.
MacKeigan said there are three critical milestones researchers are currently working to meet.
The first is to show Fasudil can cross the blood-brain barrier effectively, the second is to see if the drug cooperates with dopamine therapies, and the third is to determine whether the medication can protect neurons and halt degeneration.
“The potential of this drug is that it would be a development of a new treatment for Parkinson’s disease that is more than symptomatic,” he said. “(It could) protect neurons and restore degenerating neurons.”