Top 10 Parkinson’s Stories of 2018
We look forward to bringing more news to Parkinson’s patients, as well as their family members and caregivers, during 2019.
The Parkinson’s Disease News Today forums are a place to connect with other patients, share tips and talk about the latest research. Join today!
Here are the Top 10 most-read articles of 2018, with a brief description of what made them interesting to the Parkinson’s community.
Results of a Phase 2 trial (NCT02954978) of Novartis’ nilotinib in 75 patients with mid-stage Parkinson’s and mild cognitive impairment suggested the therapy increased production and metabolism of dopamine within one to four hours after a single treatment. Also, low-dose nilotinib (150 mg and 200 mg) — marketed as Tasigna for certain types of leukemia — was associated with lower levels of an altered and toxic form of alpha-synuclein, the main component of Parkinson’s hallmark protein clumps known as Lewy bodies.
The long-term safety, tolerability, and immune response associated with an experimental vaccine called Affitope PD01A were studied in a series of four consecutive Phase 1 trials: AFF008 (NCT01568099), AFF008E (NCT01885494), AFF008A (NCT02216188), and AFF008AA (NCT02618941). Twenty-one treated and five control patients completed the series. The results showed that both 15 μg or 75 μg doses of Affitope were well-tolerated, only causing mild injection-site reactions. The vaccine, being developed by Affiris, induced a clear immune response against its target — alpha-synuclein — that was stabilized with “boost” injections. At week 26 of treatment, it induced a trend toward lower levels of a toxic form of alpha-synuclein in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid, the liquid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord.
A Phase 3 trial (NCT03319485) of a potential nonsurgical treatment, known as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-guided focused ultrasound, also attracted significant interest. The InSightec-sponsored study — still recruiting patients with advanced disease — is exploring the procedure’s safety and effectiveness. It follows a pilot trial demonstrating lesser upper-limb tremors in patients with tremor-dominant Parkinson’s who did not respond to other therapies. In this non-invasive approach, ultrasound waves destroy damaged tissue in a brain structure called the globus pallidus, which is involved in the regulation of voluntary movement. The team expects to enroll 80 to 100 participants.
Advancements in stem cell therapy for Parkinson’s were also of clear interest to our readers. Two articles assessed the replacement of dopamine-producing neurons, progressively lost during the course of disease. The first focused on patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), fully matured cells that researchers are able to reprogram in vitro (in the laboratory) to revert them to a stem cell state in which they are able to grow into any type of cell, including dopaminergic nerve cells. The second study focused on an alternative approach to stem cell therapy that, instead of iPSCs, uses parthenogenetic-derived neural stem cells. These cells are obtained by chemical manipulations in unfertilized human oocytes, or immature egg cells, which are also able to grow into neurons. A Phase 1 trial (NCT02452723) of this approach is underway in patients with moderate to severe disease at a single site in Australia.
Atrophy, or shrinkage, of the hippocampus — a critical brain area involved in memory — correlates with psychosis in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Specifically, researchers found that the volume of distinct subzones of the hippocampus was associated with psychosis severity and impaired cognitive functions. Greater volume was also seen in another specific brain area, the hippocampal fissure, and seems to correlate with poorer visual memory and visuospatial functions. Previous data had suggested that change in this area is a radiological hallmark of ongoing brain atrophy in the hippocampus.
The link between tiny bleeds in the brain — cerebral microbleeds (CBMs) — with both cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s disease and risk of associated dementia was No. 5 among the year’s most-read stories. CBMs are small (2-10 mm as assessed by MRI), chronic brain hemorrhages believed to be caused by structural abnormalities of the brain’s small vessels. Scientists found that CBMs were more common in Parkinson’s patients with dementia than in those without dementia, and were associated with lower cognitive scores. Other findings showed that patients with CBMs were older, and had more severe Parkinson’s symptoms and cerebrovascular lesions.
Patients at early stages of Parkinson’s with low levels of vitamin B12 may experience faster motor and cognitive decline. Prior work had shown that B12 deficiencies can induce neurological and motor symptoms associated with Parkinson’s, including depression, paranoia, muscular numbness, and weakness. This study differed in that it was conducted in untreated patients earlier in the disease course, and found slower progression in those taking a multivitamin supplement. Overall, the findings suggest that vitamin supplements may help slow symptom progression.
Pain is a frequent non-motor symptom of Parkinson’s disease. A review study found that its management may be most effective with Xadago (safinamide, by US WorldMeds) or with cannabinoids and opioids. Other approaches, such as multidisciplinary team care, Comtan (entacapone) and Tasmar (tolcapone) may also provide pain relief. In turn, the investigational treatment pardoprunox (SLV-308) and surgery reported only moderate benefits on reducing pain severity.
Medical cannabis is a safe and effective option to ease pain in older patients with Parkinson’s, cancer, or other illnesses. In a study involving 2,736 people 65 years or older, its use over six months enabled a reduction or discontinuation of opioid pain medications in over 18% of patients. Participants also reported an improved quality of life. The most common adverse events were dizziness and dry mouth, reported by 7.1% of patients.
Out most widely read article of 2018 reported that a form of vitamin B3 — nicotinamide riboside — prevented the loss of motor function and lessened nerve cell death in a fly model of Parkinson’s. It also increased the levels of a metabolic compound called NAD+ and improved energy balance in fish neurons with a defective GBA gene — the most frequent gene risk for Parkinson’s — and defects in mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouse. The researchers suggested that this form of vitamin B3 may help treat impaired mitochondria function, which has been linked to Parkinson’s development.
At Parkinson’s News Today, we hope that these articles, along our continuing reporting throughout 2019, help to educate, inform, and improve the lives of patients and their loved ones.
We wish all our readers a happy 2019.