Aaron Schaffer / Photo Editor

The next phase of an ongoing study on Parkinson’s disease will take place at UR Medical Center  (URMC) later this year.
A press release from URMC on April 2 said that the study, which is being conducted in tandem with Northwestern University, could have exciting new implications for the treatment of the disease.
First-phase testing of the drug was “completed decades ago,” UR School of Medicine and Dentistry neurologist Kevin Biglan said in a press release from URMC.
Biglan is one of the principle researchers involved in the study, along with Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Professor of Neurology Tanya Simuni.
The upcoming study is the third phase in a drug trial for an existing medication called Israpidine, which is currently used by doctors to treat high blood pressure. Recent findings suggest that the drug may keep patients with Parkinson’s disease healthier for longer by protecting their brain cells from deterioration.
This effect was observed when studies showed that people taking Israpidine for their high blood pressure tended to exhibit lower rates of Parkinson’s disease. Researchers suspect that the medication can help mitigate one of the main causes of Parkinson’s disease: the deterioration of dopamine-producing cells in the brain.
Dopamine is an essential chemical in the nervous system, necessary for control of the body. A shortage of the chemical causes the tremors and loss of motor control associated with Parkinson’s.
“Israpidine is FDA approved for the treatment of hypertension and has been for decades,” Biglan said. “Phase 1 studies are toxicology and safety evaluations of new drugs in healthy volunteers.”
Phase 2 ended in 2012 after researchers had determined the proper dosage and safety aspects of the drug for Parkinson’s patients. Phase 3, the researchers said, will focus on determining the efficacy of the drug.
Three hundred and thirty six Parkinson’s disease patients will be recruited for the trial and will be assigned to various research sites across the country, including UR.
Since Israpidine is already FDA-approved and widely available, success in Phase 3 of the study might mean that the drug could soon be used in the treatment of Parkinson’s.
Binglan noted the researchers’ long-term goals.
“The hope is that if the drug shows efficacy […] then this currently available drug would be considered in all patients with PD,” he said.
Israpidine would not be a stand-alone cure for the disease, but it could be used in conjunction with other medications to slow the onset of the worst symptoms. The drug has a neuroprotective effect on patients’ brain cells, meaning that it keeps the dopamine-producing cells healthier and causes the disease to progress more slowly.
“If you could slow the progression sufficiently enough,” Binglan said in the press release, “then with existing symptomatic treatments you could manage Parkinson’s symptoms quite well over a much longer period of time.”
Simuni said in the press release of the study that “if it proves to be effective, this drug will change the way we treat Parkinson’s disease.”

Passanisi is a member of the class of 2017.

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