Skip to main content

University of Lethbridge researching possible Parkinson’s disease treatments

The Unniversity of Lethbridge has been chosen for innovative Parkinson’s research. (Supplied) The Unniversity of Lethbridge has been chosen for innovative Parkinson’s research. (Supplied)

The University of Lethbridge has been chosen to research GB Sciences' new patent-protected formulations of a potential Parkinson’s disease (PD) treatment. 

Led by Dr. Robert Sutherland, the study will focus on the cannabis-based formulations as a way to potentially slow down or possibly reverse the symptoms of PD. 

One cause of PD is the death of nerve cells in the basal ganglia. This area of the brain controls bodily movement, and the cells that die are dopamine-producing cells. The lack of dopamine produced by the basal ganglia results in some of the common symptoms, like shakiness, difficulty with coordination and balance issues. 

Another cause is the death of nerve endings that produce norepinephrine, the main chemical messenger of the nervous system. This results in other symptoms, like fatigue, irregular blood pressure, and decreased movement of food through the digestive tract.  

Sutherland says the causes of PD make it difficult to treat, but he is hoping this study will be a breakthrough in potential treatments. 

"Right now there’s no cure for Parkinson’s disease, there’s no treatment that even slows down the process significantly and that’s an important fact," Sutherland said. 

"It’s the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s disease. So finding anything that produces a benefit or could actually pause the disease progression is really significant."

The cannabis-based formulations don’t have any THC or other psychoactive chemicals in them. Rather than trying to mimic dopamine, it hopes to protect the dopamine producing cells. 

"There is no direct dopamine effect, so these cannabinoids do not mimic dopamine, but they do tend to have a neuroprotectant function. So there’s an endogenous process inside the brain of people with Parkinson’s Disease that slowly kills off the dopamine neurons and it’s thought that these mixtures will actually block or interfere with that killing off of the dopamine neurons," Sutherland says. 

While the formulation is expected to protect these neurons, it’s possible that it could even help dying cells recover. 

"There’s a little bit of residual capacity in these dopamine neurons to recover from damage, and a second possible mechanism of action is that these compounds actually stimulate recovery of dopamine neurons. So as well as being protective, they may actually increase the health of dopamine neurons that are remaining," Sutherland says.

Dopamine and norepinephrine neurons share many similarities, so it’s possible that the formulations could impact both leading causes of PD.

"There’s a lot of similarities between dopamine neurons and norepinephrine neurons neurochemically. They resemble each other. So there’s a good possibility that this would be neuroprotective or reverse the symptoms of norepinephrine loss as well," Sutherland says. 

Ultimately, the main goal of the study is to put the brakes on PD progression, and to reverse some of the symptoms. 

"The main point is to make sure we can reverse these symptoms. So can we actually restore normal movement functions? That’s goal number one," Sutherland says. 

The study began last week, and is divided into three steps: 

  1. Test the correct dosage range of the formulation with normal mice. This is a dose-response experiment where they apply three different doses to mice and continuously monitor their behavior under the influence of the formulation. This is to make sure there aren’t any serious side effects. 
  2. After finding the correct dosage, apply it to mice that have a form of experimental PD. This is to see if it improves their movement, and whether or not the mixtures in the appropriate dose can restore some function. 
  3. Testing if the formulation can block the death of dopamine neurons in mice. On top of that, they will also see if it’s possible to reverse symptoms. 

Currently, the study is in the early stages of the first steps. Top Stories

Stay Connected