UI research suggests possible new treatment for Parkinson’s disease

New research released by the UI suggests that the market drug terazosin could change the trajectory of Parkinson’s treatment.


Katie Goodale

Researchers Philip Polgreen (top left), Jacob Simmering (bottom left), Jordan Schultz (center), Michael Welsh (top right) and Kumar Narayanan (bottom right) pose for a portrait outside of the Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building on Monday Sept. 16, 2019. (Katie Goodale/The Daily Iowan)

Katie Ann McCarver, News Editor

Collaboration among researchers, clinicians, and scientists at the University of Iowa led to the release on Monday of new Parkinson’s research, which suggests that a drug used to treat enlarged prostates could slow progression of the neurodegenerative disease.

UI Pappajohn Biomedical Institute Director Michael Welsh, senior study author, said it was his co-study author Lei Liu in Beijing who discovered that the medication terazosin could increase cellular energy metabolism.

After assembling a team, the pair began investigating how the drug might slow neurodegeneration, or the death of cells, in Parkinson’s patients.

Based on information compiled from databases, the researchers discovered that older men with Parkinson’s who were prescribed terazosin for unrelated reasons had decreased motor and cognitive symptoms, as well as fewer complications. Animal experiments produced similar results.

“I’ve been falling off my chair several times now, because this is really exciting,” Welsh said. “It’s a unique study because of the aggregation of data from animals and human databases. That hasn’t really been possible to do before.”

Researchers may have the opportunity to change the lives of people with Parkinson’s, Welsh said, although just the association of animal and human results is not yet an answer.

“I want to let people know that there’s real hope,” he said. “But it’s not yet proof.”

RELATED: Brain stimulation helps treat Parkinson’s patients, UI researchers say

Next, the UI research team will conduct a randomized, double-blinded study to prove terazonin’s effectiveness in Parkinson’s patients, Welsh said.

UI neurologist Kumar Narayanan said the data is only retrospective so far, and researchers must gather prospective evidence in order to convince others that the drug can treat Parkinson’s.

Narayanan said the team is currently in Phase 1 of trials to determine the feasibility and safety of the drug. It’s important to test each aspect of the drug’s effects rigorously, he said, because many promising medications fail in the second and third phases.

There are currently no disease-modifying therapies to slow down motor regression in Parkinson’s, Naranayan said. Approaching Parkinson’s through metabolism is a new path, and UI researchers are lighting the way.

Narayanan mentioned that Parkinson’s affects 1 percent of people in the U.S. older than 65, and as age increases, so will the relevancy of Parkinson’s.

Patients who struggle with symptoms such as slow movement, autonomic dysfunction, and more, Narayanan said, have been an intense motivator to move forward with research.

“Parkinson’s is a big problem in Iowa, so this is something that really hits close to home,” Narayanan said. “I’ve learned to be an optimist … because what’s the alternative?”

In terms of treatment, patients use Levodopa, dopamine antagonists, and brain stimulation. Other trials have been largely negative, Narayanan said.

“It’s an incredibly debilitating and dehumanizing disease,” Narayanan said.

RELATED: UIHC recognized as top treatment center for Parkinson’s disease

UI Pharm.D. Jordan Schultz said he could only initially find 13 people with Parkinson’s taking the medication, but the results were undeniable.

Now, Schultz said he will translate the findings from mice into humans. There’s an eager group of patients for trials, and researchers are hopeful to expand to larger studies within the year.

“The first step is to make sure the dose, the route of administration, formulation, are all going to be safe in this new patient population,” Schultz said. “We have to ensure that we’re doing right by the patients.”

Schultz credited the UI for its collaborative culture, which allowed researchers to work in a way that’s really beneficial and impactful for their patients.

Narayanan said the team believes a terazosin-centered treatment for Parkinson’s could decrease the disease’s rate of progression by two-thirds.

“It’s been difficult to be a Parkinson’s neurologist,” Narayanan said. “Hopefully [this drug’s] effect would be the motor symptoms will progress less and develop less complications.”