Vaccine for Parkinson’s Disease Enters Phase 1 Clinical Trial
Copied from The Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation Weekly News Update
Brain Blogger - The word “vaccination” generally brings to mind the prevention of infectious disease. However, significant advances have recently been made in the field of therapeutic vaccination for the treatment of chronic human disorders including neurological conditions and cancer.
Simply put, a vaccine is a mixture of compounds (most often proteins) that are selected for their ability to activate the immune system. These compounds, also known as antigens, are then injected into the body where they prepare the immune system for a future assault. The result of such prophylactic vaccination is either complete immunity to the illness, or at least a significant reduction in disease severity.
While a prophylactic vaccine is administered as a preventative measure, therapeutic vaccines are intended to help fight a disease that has already taken root. For example, a therapeutic vaccine might be given to a patient with cancer in order to enlist the patient’s own immune system in the fight against the disease.
The problem with this kind of approach is ensuring that the antigen used in the vaccine does not induce an immune response against healthy parts of the body. Again, using cancer as an example, diseased cells often contain mutated proteins, or proteins that are not usually expressed in adult tissue (known as onco-fetal genes). This means that vaccines using these antigens specifically target cancer cells.
Recently, a therapeutic vaccine for Parkinson’s disease developed by Austrian pharmaceutical company Affiris entered a clinical trial, a landmark move in the management of a disease that is currently only treated at a symptomatic level.
Patients with Parkinson’s disease suffer from a number of debilitating symptoms that are the result of the loss of a particular class of neurons in the brain. These neurons are involved in the control of muscle function and are particularly sensitive to the neurotransmitter dopamine. It is for this reason that current treatments revolve around modulation of the levels of this chemical.
The underlying molecular cause of the disease is a protein called alpha-synuclein. Ordinarily this protein is found throughout the neocortex, hippocampus, thalamus, substantia nigra, and cerebellum, although its precise function remains unknown. Importantly, this protein is very unusual in that it does not fold up like the majority of proteins. Its “floppy”, unfolded appearance means that it is particularly susceptible to getting tangled up and forming protein aggregates within brain cells, thus sentencing the affected cell to death. The formation of protein aggregates also underlies other brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease and Creutzfeld-Jacob disease.
It is the alpha-synuclein protein tangles that are targeted by the vaccine currently in trials, PD01A. The study, funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation to the tune of $1.5 million, will assess the safety of the vaccine in both men and women with Parkinson’s disease, with the results expected in July of 2014.
Given the prevalence of protein aggregates in brain diseases, therapeutic vaccination might therefore represent a promising future treatment for several neurological conditions.
Take a Walk in The Park
Walking improves stamina, energy, heart health, strength, and balance. As a form of exercise walking may even alter the physical and brain changes that occur with Parkinson’s over time. Walking can also help the mind and the soul. Research tells us that exercise including simply just walking, can protect our thinking abilities as we get older and protect from disease…
· Reduce cognitive decline that can happen with aging
· Reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease a form of dementia that attacks memory and thinking skills
· Reduce the decline executive function in Parkinson’s. (Learn more about executive function.)
Walking can also be good for our emotions and our soul. We have long known that exercise can help our mood and treat depression. A walk in the park is like getting a double dose of therapy.
John Muir, a naturalist and nature lover once wrote,
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
In a time when many of us are flocking to gyms, joining exercise classes or getting on the treadmill to get in ‘their exercise’, we may be missing an opportunity to move and feel well. Researchers evaluating the effect of walking on our mood showed that a walk in the park improved mood more than a similar walk in the shopping mall. Our environment affects how we feel, think, move and behave. Think about a walk in the park on a beautiful sunny day and the feeling and experience that comes to mind
· The fresh air sharpens the senses and clears the mind of clutter
· The marvel and good natured fun of watching nature
· The stress dissolving effect of the peaceful calm of a gentle breeze
· The sense of hope and anticipation that comes with the first spring buds.
· The reflection of days past and what brings joy to us in life as we watch the sun set
· The challenge and sure footedness of walking that is gained from walking on uneven ground
· The chance to slow down, share your walk and connect with a loved one
· The energizing feel of the sun
· The joy and reminder that little things like a bird’s song or child’s laughter are important in life
· The soothing effect of the sun’s warmth on our back
The benefits of nature are available to us all. The power of exercise in Parkinson’s, healthy aging and emotional wellbeing are undisputed. Enhance this power by taking your next exercise activity outdoors. Whether you take a stroll in your wheelchair in the park, take a walk around the block or a short stroll in your backyard, the benefit of nature is priceless.
Author: Monique Giroux, MD
Copyright 2013 Northwest Parkinson's Foundation Wellness Center
Nature as Therapy