According to Wiki-pedia, a vaccine is  “a substance used to stimulate production of antibodies and provide immunity against one or several diseases, prepared from the causative agent of a disease, its products or a synthetic substitute, treated to act as an antigen without inducing the disease.”  There is no cure for PARKINSON’S DISEASE, and treatments, while helpful to some degree, do not stop the progression of the disease.  But Parkinson’s is not like Mumps, Measles, Pertussis, or Rubella, diseases that vaccines have nearly eliminated. But there is hope on the horizon.  An Austrian pharmaceutical research company, AFFiRiS AG has just announced that the first trial of a new medication has proven safe and tolerable in a group of 24 test subjects.


PD01A is a new therapeutic drug designed to generate antibodies specific to alpha-synuclein, thought to be a causative agent in PARKINSON’S DISEASE.  In this study, two groups of subjects received two different doses once a month for four months.  8 subjects received “best medical care” but no vaccinations and served as control subjects and all the subjects were followed for the course of one year.  At the end of the year, they were all evaluated and clinical specimens were obtained.  Half of the subjects that received PD01A developed alpha synuclein specific antibodies in both their serum and their cerebrospinal fluid. These subjects also demonstrated a trend toward stabilization of their functional capacities.  The company regards these results as very encouraging and plans to begin further clinical trials beginning this September.


PD01A represents a novel approach to the treatment of PARKINSON’S DISEASE.  The role of alpha-synuclein is still not clearly understood and researchers do not agree whether its removal would be clinically beneficial or not. The disease pathology of PARKINSON’S DISEASE is still being studied and is by no means clearly established.  Alpha synuclein is definitely involved in some genetically inherited forms of the disease and also is found in the post mortem brain tissues of subjects with Lewy body disease.  In animal models, added alpha synuclein does cause clinical symptoms and progression similar to those seen in humans.


Much of the neurodegeneration in PARKINSON’S DISEASE occurs well before the symptoms become manifest. By some estimates, as much as 75% of dopamine producing neurons are affected before a subject shows any symptoms.  If a vaccination is to be effective in disease modification, intervention would have to come sooner rather than later. A vaccine may not be effective if the disease is already extensive and the neurodegeneration is irreversible.  Biomarkers for PARKINSON’S DISEASE might provide that early warning system, but that also raises ethical issues and much more research is needed Also, the relationship of alpha-synuclein to the later dysfunction of mitochondria and oxidative stress is still under investigation.


The results of this first small trial of PD01A are exciting and encouraging.  The next study will address the immunological and clinical effects of a booster vaccination and will be done in Vienna.  Development of this vaccine will be slow and cautious. A warning from a similar situation must also be heeded: the development of a vaccine to remove the tau protein from Alzheimer’s brains resulted in development of serious, life threatening side effects and had to be discontinued.




Article by Marcia McCall


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