Protecting nerve cells (neuroprotection) from any further damage caused by Parkinson’s is a key component in the route to curing the condition.

Neurodegenerative conditions are characterised by the loss of cells in the brain. One of the main groups of cells affected in Parkinson’s are the population of neurons producing a chemical called dopamine.

The disappearance of these particular cells appears to be a slow and gradual process, with individual neurons in different stages of degeneration at any moment in time. Thus, when a disease halting treatment has been  identified, another therapy that will protect damaged neurons and nurse them back to health will also be necessary. Protecting nerve cells from any further damage caused by Parkinson’s is a key component in the route to curing the condition. Cure Parkinson’s funds preclinical research investigating neuroprotective agents, and through our International Linked Clinical Trials programme, we have been leading the charge in testing potentially neuroprotective approaches.

Exenatide is a glucagon like peptide-1 receptor or GLP-1R agonist. This is a class of drug that has traditionally been used for treating diabetes, but has recently been repurposed for Parkinson’s.

After multiple studies suggested neuroprotective properties in models of Parkinson’s, a clinical trial programme was initiated, and in 2017, a phase 2 exenatide trial reported the stabilisation of Parkinson’s motor features over the course of the 48 week trial.

Exenatide and Parkinson’s

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This is the strongest evidence we have so far that a drug could do more than provide symptom relief for Parkinson’s disease

Professor Tom Foltynie, lead investigator of the exenatide programme

A lot of research on potential neuroprotective approaches for Parkinson’s has focused on the field of nerve growth factors, or neurotrophic factors. These are naturally produced proteins that support and stimulate growth in neurons.

Since our inception, Cure Parkinson’s has been supporting research centred around a neurotrophic factor called glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (or GDNF). Preclinical data demonstrated that this molecule has potent protective properties on dopamine neurons, and those results led to a large Cure Parkinson’s co-funded clinical trial being conducted in Bristol.

The GDNF Study

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That trial did not achieve a positive result based on predetermined measures, but it did demonstrate evidence of the biological effect, and Cure Parkinson’s has been exploring how to take research of other neurotrophic factors forward.

Nerve growth factors for Parkinson’s

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