UNMC team moves closer to Parkinson’s disease vaccine

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OMAHA, Neb. (March 2, 2010)—UNMC researchers have taken a significant step forward in the development of a vaccine to reverse the neurological damage caused by Parkinson’s disease.

The findings appear in the March 1 issue of the Journal of Immunology.

“This could be a revolutionary means for Parkinson’s disease therapeutics,” said Howard Gendelman, M.D., chairman of the department of pharmacology and experimental neuroscience (PEN), who partnered with R. Lee Mosley, Ph.D., to lead the research. “It has been a long journey representing more than 10 years of hard work by our research team.”

Neurodegeneration occurs when a normal protein called alpha synuclein clumps, changes shape, then accumulates in the brain. This results in the body attacking it through inflammation and causing destruction of dopamine-producing nerve cells.The cause of Parkinson’s disease — which affects more than 4 million people worldwide — is the loss of neurons that produce dopamine, a nerve signaling chemical that controls movement and balance.

UNMC researchers reversed the neurodegenerative effects of alpha synuclein by changing immune responses to it.

In mice with an experimental form of Parkinson’s disease, researchers found that the vaccine enabled T cells to migrate to the damaged area of the brain and triggered a neuroprotective response that reduced disease-linked reactions in the brain.

T cells are white blood cells that are key to immune response. They act like soldiers who search out and destroy the targeted invaders.

Additional work is needed to determine how to safely translate the study results into a therapy for humans, Dr. Gendelman said.

Human studies are being conducted at the University of Alabama-Birmingham and within the next month at UNMC to determine if the immune deficits seen in mice also are present in humans with Parkinson’s disease. For more information on the UNMC portion of this study, call 402-559-6941.

“Early results are encouraging,” said Dr. Mosley, an associate professor in the PEN department, who noted that the research could open new doors for treatment of Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative disorders.

UNMC’s technology transfer company, UNeMed, has filed a patent application on the vaccine and soon will talk to commercial partners about bringing the vaccine to the clinical setting.

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