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Van Andel Research Institute Testing Fasudil as a Potential Disease Modifying Treatment for Parkinson's
By Sue Thoms, The Grand Rapids Press
Actor Michael J. Fox's foundation for Parkinson's research has awarded a $400,000 grant to fund research by Grand Rapids scientists into a drug that has the potential to halt the progression of the disease.
Because other drugs only provide relief from symptoms, researchers are excited about the possibility of a drug that could protect and restore degenerating neurons affected by Parkinson's. Also, if the drug is effective, it could be made available to patients relatively quickly, said Jeffrey MacKeigan, of the Van Andel Research Institute.
MacKeigan is co-investigator of the study with Caryl Sortwell, a professor of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. They are working with researchers at the Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), which is closely affiliated with the Van Andel Institute.
The focus of their efforts is Fasudil, a drug already approved in Japan to improve blood flow to the brain in stroke victims. It has shown similar positive outcomes in the U.S. in late-stage clinical trials.
Fasudil also showed potential for improving learning and memory and reducing the risk of Alzheimer's in a 2009 study by TGen and Arizona State University. VARI investigators discovered its potential for treating Parkinson's while testing drugs to reduce the toxicity caused by a gene implicated in Parkinson's disease.
"Fasudil has a very favorable safety profile in humans and is already available in Japan as an oral tablet, so upon successful milestone completion, we could be seeing clinical trials within two to three years," MacKeigan said in a statement.
The $400,000 grant is part of $2.4 million awarded this week by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research for investigations into "repositioning drugs," which involves finding new uses for medications that are already FDA-approved or have been proven safe in trials for other uses.
"The development of new drugs is expensive and time-consuming," Kuldip Dave, associate director of research programs at the foundation, said in a statement. "By identifying therapies that are already clinically available, we can potentially mitigate the time and costs involved in finding drugs that could help people living with Parkinson's."
Sortwell said the collaboration of MSU and VARI researchers brings together two different skill sets.
"The Van Andel/TGen team has expertise in cell biology and proteomics, while our researchers have extensive experience in Parkinson's disease systems biology and modeling," she said. "Together both organizations share the goal of helping those afflicted with PD to live better lives as a result of their respective research programs."
Fox, 50, was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson's in 1991. In 2000, the actor launched his foundation to fund research into treatments for the disease, which damages the nerve cells in the brain that control muscle movement.
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