An article in The Boston Globe this weekend covers the history of Parkinson’s and the promise of new therapies targeting alpha-synuclein to slow or stop the disease. Reporter Bret Schulte frames the update around his father’s Parkinson’s diagnosis.
Potential breakthrough comes from a recent focus on alpha synuclein, a protein found mainly in nerve cells. It is so biologically obscure that scientists aren’t even sure of its purpose. What they do know is that the protein can deform, or what scientists call misfold, and gum up into clumps called Lewy bodies, which litter the transportation system that nerves rely on. The nerves die. If enough die, your body stops producing the dopamine necessary for normal functioning. You have Parkinson’s disease.
Grim though it is, the discovery has given scientists a target for therapy. Their new weapon? Vaccines, or more generally, immunotherapy — an approach that has kickstarted the kind of outbreak you can cheer for: loads of biotech investment and clinical studies.
Schulte worked with The Michael J. Fox Foundation to shape the article and includes quotes from CEO Todd Sherer, PhD, and Director of Research Programs Kuldip Dave, PhD.
Parkinson’s is environmental. Or it is hereditary. Or it is both at the same time. Folks who get the disease from the environment often have a genetic disposition to the disease that is triggered by certain toxins. In every instance, however, the toxic clumps of alpha synuclein are the culprit. “That’s why there’s so much excitement,” says Todd Sherer, the CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation. “An alpha synuclein therapy should work for any of those individuals.”