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31 Aug 2017

Taking on the challenge: Parkinson’s disease events to foster collaboration, pursuit of a cure

In less than a month, scientists, physicians and people with Parkinson’s will gather at Van Andel Research Institute with one goal in mind—finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease.

This collaborative effort is part of Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease, a scientific symposium aimed at exploring the latest research, and Rallying to the Challenge, a parallel patient-led meeting to amplify the voices of people with Parkinson’s in the pursuit of new treatments.

Curious about the topics that will be highlighted this year? We have you covered.

Getting to the root of the problem
One of the most basic questions about Parkinson’s is one of the most difficult—what causes the disease?

The answer still isn’t entirely clear but scientists are getting close. Along the way, they’ve uncovered clues that point to a complex constellation of influences, including mounting evidence that suggests Parkinson’s may be caused by a maelstrom of factors that interfere with cells’ ability to produce energy.

As a result, essential housekeeping processes break down, allowing harmful proteins to build up, causing inflammation and killing the cell. By the time Parkinson’s is diagnosed, as many as 70 percent of these vital dopamine-producing cells in the brain may be dead or damaged.

This year’s symposium and meeting will tackle these findings and explore how they may be used to help patients. If scientists can figure out exactly what goes wrong and why, they may be able to develop ways to actually interfere with the disease, slowing or stopping it to give people with Parkinson’s more years with fewer symptoms. Which brings us to…

Old drugs, new purposes
Repurposed drugs” is a fancy term for using a medication developed for one disease as a treatment for another. Since these drugs have already passed crucial safety tests, it’s an approach that could shave years off the time it takes to get a medication from the lab to patients.

That’s critical, particularly in Parkinson’s disease, since the gold-standard therapy, levodopa, was developed in the 1960s and has remained largely the same ever since. Moreover, levodopa only mitigates symptoms, becomes less effective over time and may come with side effects of its own.

At the most basic level, medicines work by fixing a problem with the chemical pathways that govern normal bodily functions. These pathways are incredibly complicated and interconnected, meaning a medication developed to treat an underlying problem in diabetes could also target a similar problem in Parkinson’s.

In fact, diabetes drugs are among the most promising for finding new Parkinson’s treatments thanks in part to the role disruptions in cellular energy may play in both diseases. You can learn more about recent findings around one of these medications here and can hear directly from the scientist who led the study during Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease and Rallying to the Challenge.

 

Working together
Sometimes, life-changing ideas start over a casual cup of coffee or a chance conversation. That’s one of the goals of Grand Challenges and Rallying to the Challenge—to foster a collaborative forum for people with similar goals to connect. There are tons of opportunities for patients to interact with scientists and physicians studying the disease and, just as importantly, for scientists and physicians to hear from patients.

 

Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease will feature talks from 19 scientific speakers, including this year’s Jay Van Andel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Parkinson’s Disease Research honoree Dr. J. William Langston (read more about him and his discoveries here). Rallying to the Challenge, which is designed for people with Parkinson’s disease by people with Parkinson’s in collaboration with The Cure Parkinson’s Trust and Parkinson’s Movement, will feature panel discussions and breakout sessions focused on clinical trials and drug repurposing. Both events will be held Sept. 27–28 at Van Andel Research Institute. Explore their programs and register here: www.grandchallengesinpd.org.