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URMC / Research / Research@URMC / February 2015 / Neuroprotection for Parkinson’s Remains Elusive

Neuroprotection for Parkinson’s Remains Elusive

creatineA new study appearing today in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that creatine does not slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease.  However, researchers are still committed to pursuing therapies that may help patients manage the symptoms of the disease for a longer period of time.

Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder that gradually erodes an individual’s control over their movements and speech. One of the pathological hallmarks of the disease is the loss of cells in the brain that produce the neurochemical dopamine.  It is believed that the relentless nature of the disease and its accumulating disability is, in part, due to the steady loss of these cells.

Physicians have several tools at their disposal that enable them to effectively manage the symptoms of the disease for a period of time, however, no treatment exists that can slow the progressive deterioration of function.  Consequently, many patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s will experience a “honeymoon” period of 2-5 years during which existing treatments can essentially help them to lead a normal life.  But over time, these treatments become less effective as the disease gets worse.

One of the objectives of current Parkinson’s research is to identify new therapies that would slow the advance of the disease by keeping the brain’s dopamine-producing cells healthier for a longer period of time.  Researchers believe that the development of disease modifying approaches – sometimes called neuroprotection – when complemented with existing symptom-managing therapies could help hold disability at bay and extend the honeymoon period experienced by many patients. 

Creatine, an amino acid and common nutritional supplement, is believed to support the function of mitochondria – tiny “power plants” that supply cells with energy – and, thereby, potentially slow the loss of dopamine-producing neurons.  The Phase 3 study, which was sponsored by the National Institute for Neurological Diseases, was the largest clinical trial ever conducted in Parkinson’s disease.

The study, which was led by Karl Kieburtz, M.D., director of the University of Rochester Clinical and Translational Science Institute, was halted in 2013 when it became apparent that creatine was not providing a benefit to Parkinson’s patients.

While the findings are a setback, efforts are ongoing to identify a therapy that may slow the disease’s progress.  Most notably STEADY-PD 3, a $23 million Phase 3 clinical trial co-led by the University of Rochester and Northwestern University, is currently underway to evaluate isradipine, a drug currently used to treat high blood pressure.

Read more about the creatine study in U.S. News & World Report.

Mark Michaud | 2/10/2015

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