Tuesday, June 12, 2012

World's first Parkinson's vaccine is trialled

Parkinson's disease. Illustration of the brain, depicting the neurological disorder of Parkinson's disease. A coronal section through the brain is seen, with two elderly figures in a bent posture superimposed. Parkinson's disease is caused by a degeneration of nerve tissue within the basal ganglia (pink areas, at centre) of the brain. As a result, nerve pathways down the spinal cord are altered. Contracted muscle is prevented from relaxing, causing tremor, joint rigidity, and slow movement. Parkinson's disease affects the elderly. It progresses from a slight hand tremor, to an unbalanced, bent-over, shuffling walk. Treatment includes dopamine drugs. There is no cure.

TEN people with Parkinson's disease this week received injections of the first vaccine aimed at combating the condition.

Called PD01A, the drug primes the body's immune system to destroy alpha-synuclein, a protein thought to trigger the disease by accumulating in the brain and disrupting dopamine production.

Affiris, the company in Vienna, Austria, that developed the vaccine, says it is the first treatment to target the cause of the disease. "When it forms clumps in cells, alpha-synuclein disrupts normal levels of dopamine by locking it inside cells that produce it. It is also toxic, killing neurons and their connections," says Mandler Markus, head of preclinical development at the company.

Most existing treatments only ease symptoms by boosting dopamine levels.

In all, 32 people will receive the vaccine in the first trial on humans. The objective is to ensure the vaccine is safe, but researchers will also monitor for signs of improvement in symptoms.

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