Computational scientists clear path to potential Parkinson's drugs

Computer modeling has shed more light on the structure of a protein found clumped together in the neurons of those stricken with Parkinson's disease, opening a path that drug hunters could march down to find new ways of treating the neurological disease.

While unanswered questions stand in the way of potential treatments, MIT scientists created a computer model to advance their understanding of the structure of the protein alpha synuclein, Science Daily reported. The protein clumps together in the brains of Parkinson's patients, making it a prime target for drug research. Yet scientists have feuded over whether the protein forms into well-defined rigid or haphazard floppy states that lead to clumping.

Working with others from Brandeis and Harvard universities, the MIT-led crew's computer model showed that the protein forms into either rigid or floppy states. And their research proposes that a drug that could make floppy-state alpha synuclein take on a rigid structure could offer a new way to treat Parkinson's disease. Yet before the scientists home in a potential drug, they want to find out what molecular activities cause the protein to take on different structures.

"If this structure really does exist, we have a new way now of potentially designing drugs that will prevent aggregation of alpha synuclein" and combat Parkinson's disease, study leader Collin Stultz, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, said, as quoted by Science Daily.

Parkinson's affects an estimated 1 million Americans, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. Yet new therapies to address the prevalent disease have been slow to come as, like other motor neuron and neurological illness, areas of the disease biology remain poorly understood. Nevertheless, Parkinson's disease has stayed on the pharma industry's radar, with major companies such as AbbVie ($ABBV) and Takeda pursuing new potential therapies.

- check out the Science Daily item