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Episode 16: Can an Asthma Drug Prevent Parkinson’s?

Alpha-synuclein is a protein in the human brain that is linked with the development of Parkinson’s disease. An important scientific paper came out in September 2017 describing how some common drugs, already approved by the Food and Drug Administration for other purposes, may lower the production of alpha-synuclein – and potentially protect against Parkinson’s. Dr. David K. Simon, Director of the Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, a Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence, describes what the researchers did and what they found.

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About This Episode

Released: November 21, 2017

To understand why this study is exciting, it is helpful to be familiar with alpha-synuclein, a normal protein found in the human brain. People with Parkinson’s have too much alpha-synuclein. When it aggregates and accumulates it contributes to the development of the disease. These abnormal clumps of alpha-synuclein are called Lewy bodies. They are found in the dopamine-producing brain cells of people with PD. Lack of dopamine leads to many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s, including movement and mood problems.

Another term to know is beta2-adrenergic agonist, the class of medication researchers looked at in this recent study. These drugs cause smooth muscle relaxation. This helps open the bronchial passages, so beta2-adrenergic agonists are mostly used to treat asthma and other lung conditions.

David K. Simon, MD, PhD

Dr. Simon earned MD and PhD degrees from Washington University in St. Louis and completed the Harvard-Longwood Neurology Residency in Boston, followed by a Movement Disorders Fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital. He then joined the faculty at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Harvard Medical School, where he is now a Professor of Neurology. He is the Chief of the Division of Movement Disorders at BIDMC and Director of the Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence at BIDMC.

Dr. Simon is involved in clinical studies as well as laboratory research to study agents that may have neuroprotective effects in Parkinson’s disease. He was a recipient of the George C. Cotzias Award from the American Parkinson Disease Association and has received additional research funding from the American Federation for Aging Research, National Parkinson Foundation, Michael J. Fox Foundation, and two institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). 

Dr. Simon completed a four-year term as a member of the NIH Molecular Neurogenetics study section and currently serves on the NINDS Biospecimen Review Access Committee (PD-BRAC). He is on the Editorial Board for Annals of Neurology. He is a member of the Cure Parkinson Trust’s Linked Clinical Trials Committee and is on the Scientific Advisory Board for the Weston Brain Institute. He also has served as Chair of the Scientific Review Committee of the Parkinson’s Study Group (PSG) and currently is an elected member of the PSG Executive Committee. 

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