Researchers working for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) have published encouraging new findings in the journal Science which show that salbutamol, a type of drug commonly used to treat asthma, could lower the risk of Parkinson's disease. The drug activates proteins called beta-adrenoceptors and was found to reduce the risk of developing the disease by half.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition, which affects around 1 in 500 people in the UK. Although it is most common in those over 50, younger people can also start to develop symptoms. The disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in the brain which leads to a reduction in the production of the chemical, dopamine. This causes symptoms including involuntary shaking (tremor), slow movement, and stiffness and decreased flexibility in the muscles.
Scientists believe that the loss of nerve cells is caused by the formation of toxic clumps of alpha-synuclein protein. In their research, they tested a range of drugs for their ability to reduce levels of alpha-synuclein proteins in the brain. It was found that the drugs which activated beta-adrenoceptors reduced levels of damaging alpha-synucleins by up to 35%. One of these drugs was salbutamol, a prescription drug used in the treatment of asthma. Some drugs prescribed to treat high blood pressure and heart problems were found to block the beta-adrenoceptors, and therefore were linked to an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s.
Professor David Dexter, deputy director at Parkinson's UK, explaining this ground-breaking research, said: "These drugs appear to protect the cells destroyed in Parkinson’s, and produce small but significant changes in risk, which can only be seen when studying many thousands of people. However, medication for asthma is inhaled. Taking it orally, as you would need to do to treat Parkinson’s, would increase the risk of side effects, and this would need to be explored further. Currently there is no evidence that asthma medications may slow the condition for those who already have it, and this research does not suggest that people with Parkinson’s should stop taking drugs that help control blood pressure."
Rosie Nelson, an associate in Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team in London, who specialises in cases relating to elderly care, comments: “Parkinson’s disease has a devastating effect on the lives of sufferers and their families. While a great deal more research needs to be done before these drugs could be safely and effectively used in the prevention of Parkinson’s disease, it is an exciting step forward.”