Feb 26, 2021

Parkinson’s disease (PD), which was first described back in 1817 by British surgeon Dr. James Parkinson, affects as many as two percent of people over the age of 65 and more than 10 million people around the world. Those afflicted can live with – and suffer from – it for one or two decades before it becomes terminal. It’s a movement disorder with a variety of early symptoms such as constipation, an impaired sense of smell and dream enactment that can appear years before Parkinson’s motor symptoms.


The progressive brain disorder leads to shaking, stiffness and difficulty with walking, balance and coordination, and they get worse over time. The mild symptoms at first usually don’t interfere with daily activities, but in stage two, tremor, rigidity and other movement symptoms on both sides of the body. In stage three, patients lose their balance and their bodily movements slow down. slowness of movements, making it difficult to dress or eat by themselves. In the next stage, symptoms are severe, and victims usually need a walker and are unable to live alone.

Ben-Gurion University photo of Prof. Claude Brodski


In the final stage, leg stiffness can make it impossible to stand or walk, and the patient needs a wheelchair or is bedridden, with round-the-clock nursing care needed for all activities. The person may even suffer from hallucinations and delusions.


Among the celebrities who were stricken with PD include the boxer Muhammad Ali, actors Alan Alda and Michael J. Fox and Olympic cyclist Davis Phinney


The cause of PD is unknown, with both inherited and environmental factors believed to be involved.  Those with a family member affected by PD are at an increased risk of getting the disease, with certain genes known to be heritable risk factors. Other risk factors are those who have been exposed to certain pesticides or who have prior head injuries


Neurologists begin treatment by prescribing levodopa medications, but unfortunately, as the disease progresses, these drugs become less effective, while at the same time producing a side effect marked by involuntary muscle movements. At that time, medications may be used in combination and doses may be increased. Certain types of rehabilitation and diet can improve symptoms somewhat. Surgery to place microelectrodes for deep brain stimulation has also been used to reduce motor symptoms in severe cases in which drugs are ineffective. 


Now, new research in mice at Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev in Beersheba offers a breakthrough in understanding PD and a potential treatment for it after it reaches clinical trials. new and promising treatment for Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Claude Brodski of the Faculty of Health Sciences’ department of cell physiology and biology and the Zlotovsky Center for Neuroscience discovered with his team that proteins named BMP5/7 promise a new treatment for it by interfering with the developmental pathway of the disease. The study findings were published recently in the most prestigious neurological-clinical journal. Brain, under the title “BMP5/7 protect dopaminergic neurons in an α -synuclein mouse model of Parkinson’s disease.” 


The BGU scientists believe that failure to fold the protein alpha-synuclein, which exists in the brain of every person, is a major stage in the development of PD. Improperly folding alpha-synuclein creates toxic deposits in brain cells and these secrete dopamine into patients’ brains.


Genetically expressing the BMP5/7 in dopamine-secreting cells in the brains of mice, they found that a reduction in the amount of this protein did lead to an accumulation of toxic alpha-synuclein precipitates and the death of dopamine-producing brain cells.


“We have indeed found that treatment with BMP5/7 can prevent the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells and movement impairments in the model of Parkinson’s disease in mice,” said Brodski. They are now working to turn their discovery into a clinical application through BGU’s research and development company, BGN Technologies, which has already filed a number of patent applications for this groundbreaking discovery.


“There is a huge need that new treatments for Parkinson’s disease, especially in its advanced stages of the disease,” added Dr. Galit Mazooz-Perlmuter, the senior vice-president for business development and bio-pharma at BGN Technologies. “Dr. Brodski’s findings suggest a different drug target for treating a disease that will treat this devastating condition. We are currently looking for an industry partner to further develop the patent,” she said.


BGN Technologies has so far established over 100 start-up companies in the fields of biotechnology, hi-tech and clean-tech and has initiated leading technology centers, incubators and accelerators. Over the past decade, it has focused on creating long-term partnerships with multinational corporations such as Deutsche Telekom, Dell-EMC, PayPal and Lockheed Martin, while ensuring value and growth for BGU and the whole Negev region.