New research into the origins of Parkinson’s disease has given scientists hope of creating a vaccine for the neurological condition.
The findings suggest that a rogue protein in the body might cause the disease, and it is one that may be able to be attacked with a vaccine before it passes through the body. The most important thing that this vaccine would do is to stop the protein from destroying dopamine-producing cells as this is where Parkinson’s diseases causes the most of its damage.
Researchers are excited by this new theory, particularly in the way it has established a link between symptoms felt by people years before their diagnoses of Parkinson’s disease (the disease typically doesn’t inflict people until they are over 50, with the average age of diagnoses being 65).
“It has transformed the way we see Parkinson’s,” Roger Barker, professor of clinical neurosciences at Cambridge University, told The Guardian in the UK.
“If you ask Parkinson’s patients if, in the past, they have experienced loss of sense of smell or suffer from disturbed sleep or have problems with their bowels, very often they reply they have,” Barker told The Guardian.
“Frequently these patients manifest symptoms several years before it becomes apparent they have the disease. We now believe there is a link.”
Barker and his team say that toxins created in a person’s bowel can be transmitted via the central nervous system to the brain where they become lodged and do damage to the dopamine producing cells.
So what exactly are these toxins?
As Dr. Barker told The Guardian, “There is growing evidence to suggest that it is a normal protein that has become altered in shape and this abnormal version causes other proteins of the same type to change their shape as well,” he said.
“Such abnormal proteins are known as a prions, and we think one of them is critically involved in the development of Parkinson’s.”
It’s not the first time that talk of a vaccine for Parkinson’s has been mooted, with 15 years of discussions surrounding a prevention for the degenerative disease. Last year an Austrian biotech company based in Austria, and the Michael J Fox Foundation, trialled a vaccine for Parkinson’s.
While the researchers conclude that there is still much work to do, this new finding is a breakthrough, say researchers.
“We are probably many years from such a vaccine for Parkinson’s, but there is no doubt about the level of excitement in the field today.”