Vaccine for Parkinson's

Initial results are in for the worlds first ever vaccine for Parkinson’s disease, and it looks promising.
31 July 2014

Interview with 

Professor Achim Schneeberger, Dr Todd Sherer, Professor Walter Schmidt, AFFiRiS AG and Michael Fox Foundation


Initial results are in for the worlds first ever vaccine for Parkinson's disease, and it Needlelooks promising.

Next, it's been decades of research, bringing together the fields of brain and the immune system.  This month, the phase I clinical trial results are in from the world's first ever human trial on a vaccine for Parkinson's disease developed by Austrian company AFFiRiS AG.  This phase I trial was looking at just a handful of patients to check the vaccine wasn't toxic for them.  And also, to get some idea if the vaccine might actually work.  I firstly spoke with Professor Achim Schneeberger from AFFiRiS AG on the impact of Parkinson's.

Achim -   It bears the name of James Parkinson, an English physician who first described the disease about 200 years ago.  Its prevalence is rising as the world's population ages.  Currently, about 5 million people worldwide are affected.

Hannah -   It's a condition in which parts of the brain becomes progressively damaged over many years.  This eventually gives rise to the physical symptoms including tremors or involuntary shaking, slow movement, and stiff muscles.  On top of these motor symptoms, Parkinson's affects patients in other ways as Achim explains...

Achim -   The most common disabling non-motor feature is dementia.  Other non-motor features includes depression, dysfunction, and sleep disturbance.

Hannah -   It's thought that the damaged brain cells that produce the chemical dopamine causes the majority of these symptoms.  The treatments currently available increase dopamine levels in the brains of patients to try and mask this.  Back to Achim on a new method for treatment...

Achim -   Increasing evidence points to a causal role of misfolded alpha-synuclein in the development and progression of Parkinson's disease.

Hannah -   We now know that this misfolded protein alpha-synuclein is toxic to brain cells and disrupts dopamine production.  Enter the Michael J. Fox Foundation, setup to fund finding a way to properly treat and prevent Parkinson's after the Back to the Future actor was affected by the disease.  They've been working with AFFiRiS as Dr. Todd Sherer, CEO of the foundation explains...

Todd -   One of them was promising drug targets towards that goal is alpha-synuclein - the sticky protein that clumps in the brains of people with Parkinson's.  We provided about $2 million of funding - first for their pre-clinical work and then for the phase I trial of their alpha-synuclein vaccine approach.

Hannah -   So, AFFiRiS have developed a vaccine to stop toxic alpha-synuclein accumulating in animal models of Parkinson's.  This week, they announced the results of the phase I trial of testing the compound on 24 patients.  It does appear to be safe in humans.  But how does it work?  Over to Dr. Walter Schmidt, CEO and co-founder of AFFiRiS AG.

Walter -   And the vaccine is teaching or educating the immune system to generate antibodies which target this alpha-syn molecule and help patients thereby against Parkinson's disease.

Hannah -   So, by stimulating the body's immune system to produce antibodies that bind to and clear clumps of the protein alpha-synuclein.  Back to Todd on the next steps for the study.

Todd -   The phase I study showed that the vaccine was safe and tolerable.  Next, we will have to see if it actually provides significant benefit for patients.

Hannah -   Well unfortunately, that's all we have time for in this episode.  Thanks to all those in the programme, Barbara Sahakian, Vince Walsh, Achim Schneeberger, Todd Sherer, Walter Schmidt.  This is Special Naked Neuroscience episode reporting from the Federation of European Neurosciences Forum in Milan.

In the next episode, we'll be reporting close at home from a Cambridge meeting hosted by the British Association of Psychopharmacology.  We'll be finding out, does smoking dope decrease your potential for pleasure.  The stereotypical stoner is often portrayed as an unmotivated apathetic armchair philosopher.  Now, a new research reveals the biological underpinnings with chronic marijuana use rewiring the brain, making it less sensitive to the motivation and reward chemical, dopamine.


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