Cancer Drug Helps Parkinson’s Patients

“I would fall on my face,” he said. “I fell at one of the restaurants here in town (and) broke my nose.”

After taking Tasigna, he felt his muscles respond the way they are supposed to.

“I started to dress myself, which I couldn’t do any more,” Hoffman said. “I read a book for the first time in a couple of years,” he added. “I haven’t fallen in a long time.”

Dr. Charbel Moussa, who directs Georgetown’s Laboratory of Dementia and Parkinsonism, has been testing cancer drugs against several different neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. He was interested in nilotinib because of the way it works – by helping cells get rid of toxic protein waste.

“The cell starts to chew its own contents,” he said. It helps brain cells make their own dopamine – the important message carrying chemical that’s lacking in patients with Parkinson’s.

“When used in higher doses for CML, nilotinib forces cancer cells into autophagy — a biological process that leads to the death of tumor cells,” Moussa said.

“It appears that in smaller doses once a day, nilotinib turns on autophagy for about four to eight hours — long enough to clean out the cells without causing cell death. Then proteins that build up again will be cleared when the drug is given again the next day.”

Researchers are also looking to see if it helps symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease) and Huntington’s disease.

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