One of the biggest challenges in treating Parkinson’s disease is finding ways to reduce dyskinesia, the involuntary movements most people eventually develop as a side effect of being treated with L-DOPA, the medication that reduces or controls their stiffness, tremors and rigidity.
Dr. Philippe Huot, a neurologist and neuroscientist, sees the effects of dyskinesia on the people with Parkinson’s he treats at the Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal’s Movement Disorders Clinic. He was recently awarded a one-year, $45,000, Lawrason Foundation pilot project grant by Parkinson Canada’s National Research Program to investigate a new treatment for dyskinesia.
“For some people it can be really debilitating,” he says. “They cannot write. They have trouble eating. They have trouble getting dressed. It can be really disturbing and undermine their quality of life.”
That’s why Huot is studying a new chemical compound he hopes will alleviate dyskinesia. He’s investigating a compound that modulates glutamate, one of the most abundant neurotransmitters, or naturally occurring chemicals, in the brain. Glutamate helps regulate movement and is also involved in generating these abnormal movements, Huot says.
Using an animal model of Parkinson’s disease, Huot is comparing the severity of dyskinesia in animals who receive the new compound in addition to L-DOPA. He is also testing the effect of simply receiving the new compound on its own, or against a placebo.
“What I hope I will demonstrate is that it is possible to alter the signalling of this chemical to achieve a reduction of dyskinesia, without altering the (beneficial) action of the current treatment,” he says.
The new compound has not yet been approved for use in humans, but similar chemicals have been tested in clinic – meaning that if it works, it might not take too long to secure funding to start small, proof-of-concept, clinical trials, Huot hopes.
“This is exciting, because maybe future clinical trials could be undertaken by me and my colleagues at my centre, and then we could move from molecules to bedside in a single centre. We can dream!”
Combining a research and a clinical career helps Huot understand not only what is happening at the cellular level in Parkinson’s disease, but how those events manifest themselves in the lives of his patients.
“I learn what the expectations, the fears and the hopes of the patients are,” he says. “This is a constant source of inspiration.”
Read about other researchers recently funded by Parkinson Canada’s National Research Program.