Newswise — A trio of studies released this week at the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting marks an important step toward treating the millions of people worldwide who suffer from Parkinson's disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and the devastating effects of stroke.
The studies show how a naturally occurring protein called KDI tri-peptide (KDI) can serve as a defense mechanism to prevent brain damage normally caused by Parkinson's disease. They also demonstrate KDI's potential to treat ALS as well as stroke, according to lead researcher PÃ¤ivi Liesi, M.D., Ph.D., of the Brain Laboratory at the University of Helsinki in Finland.
"There is now no question that KDI can be therapeutic and help prevent and even reverse some of the outcomes of these devastating neurological disorders," said Dr. Liesi, a former visiting scientist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
PARKINSON'S DISEASE MAY BE PREVENTABLEIn the Parkinson's study, live rats were first injected with KDI and then with a drug known as 6-hydroxy-dopamine, which is widely used to mimic Parkinson's disease in the laboratory. The results showed that a single injection of KDI prevented Parkinson's-like brain cell death and that KDI protected the rats' brain tissue from the massive destruction occurring in rats not injected with KDI. These findings show for the first time the tremendous potential for the development of a new biological treatment that can prevent damage from Parkinson's before symptoms even begin to show.
"This is a groundbreaking approach to treating Parkinson's disease," said George Martin, Ph.D., former scientific director for the National Institute on Aging. "Rather than focusing on treating the symptoms of Parkinson's after they have already affected people's lives, these results show that symptoms may be treatable from the start."
NEW INSIGHT INTO ALS ALSO POINTS TO KDI AS POTENTIAL THERAPYThe second study looked at humans and mice with ALS, a devastating neurological disease that causes neurons in the brain and spinal cord to die. It showed that in ALS, the spinal cord cells attempt to produce increased amounts of KDI, and that in humans this increased production of KDI even correlates with the severity of the disease. "It appears that the body tries to protect itself by producing KDI," Dr. Liesi said, "but in most cases it is not able to produce enough KDI on its own to stop the damage." Providing additional KDI may provide further benefit, she believes.
This discovery reveals for the first time that KDI is involved in ALS, and further underscores the emerging prospect that KDI may be used as a treatment for ALS. In particular, as previous research has already shown, KDI inhibits certain receptors known to be particularly relevant in the death of neurons in ALS.
EFFECTS OF STROKE MAY BE SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCED The third study showed that KDI may also be able to protect against and treat the debilitating effects of stroke, which in America alone affects 700,000 people every year. Scientists again used rats to mimic the impact that stroke has on humans. They found that the brain reacts to stroke damage by naturally producing KDI in the healthy tissue surrounding the seriously damaged brain areas. "We are currently testing KDI's ability to prevent stroke damage, and based on our results so far I feel very optimistic," says Dr. Liesi.
LATEST RESULTS VERIFY THE PREDICTED POTENTIAL OF KDIAll three studies build on, strengthen and further expand research that was published in July in the Journal of Neuroscience Research " see http://www.brainlab.fi " where Dr. Liesi demonstrated one of the ways KDI protects and repairs the central nervous system. In previous research, paralyzed rats injected with KDI were able to bear weight and even walk after only three months. The latest studies underline the potential of KDI in the treatment of a variety of central nervous system diseases and trauma. Furthermore, as KDI occurs naturally in the human body, no toxic side effects are expected and have not been seen in studies so far. Human clinical trials with KDI are currently planned to begin within the coming year.
Details of Dr. Liesi's research and further information can also be found at http://www.brainlab.fi, a site affiliated with the University of Helsinki. The University is one of the centers of excellence among universities in Europe, concentrating on high-level scientific research and researcher education. The results produced through the research and teaching carried out at the University have been widely acclaimed worldwide.