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Northwestern Study to Test Parkinson's Drug

Tanya Simuni, MD, medical director of Northwestern University’s Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center, was awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct a $16 million phase III study of the safety and efficacy of the drug isradipine as a potential neuroprotective agent in Parkinson’s disease. 

This is the only phase III Parkinson’s neuroprotective study currently funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at NIH. The research is being conducted by Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in partnership with the University of Rochester Medical Center. The study will be carried out at 56 Parkinson Study Group centers in North America over five years. 

“If this drug proves to be safe and effective, it will change the way we treat Parkinson’s disease,” said Simuni, the principal investigator of the study. “The major advantage is isradipine is already widely available and inexpensive and will allow for rapid translation of our research into clinical practice. Although we now have very effective symptomatic treatments to manage Parkinson’s, the development of a disease-modifying intervention remains the Holy Grail.” 

Simuni is the Arthur C. Nielsen, Jr. Research Professor in Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders at Feinberg and a neurologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. 

Parkinson’s is the second most common neurodegenerative disease. Prominent traits include tremor, stiffness of the limbs and trunk, slowness of movement and impaired balance and coordination. While there are pharmaceutical and alternative therapies available to manage the disease, there are currently no cures or treatments that definitively slow its progression. Researchers are looking for treatments to delay disease progression. If isradipine proves effective, the drug could revolutionize the treatment of Parkinson’s.

Isradipine has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a calcium-channel blocker to treat hypertension (high blood pressure). Isradipine blocks excessive influx of calcium into the brain cells responsible for development of Parkinson’s.

Northwestern researchers, led by D. James Surmeier, PhD, the Nathan Smith Davis Professor of Physiology and director of the Udall Center of Excellence for Parkinson’s Disease Research, discovered that calcium entry through a membrane protein blocked by isradipine could be killing dopamine-producing neurons and causing Parkinson’s.

Dopamine is a critical chemical messenger in the brain that directs a person’s ability to move. It is hypothesized that isradipine will slow the progression of the disease by protecting dopamine-producing neurons from calcium toxicity over an extended period of time. 

Academic colleagues at Feinberg, including Surmeier, will collaborate with Simuni on this study. The physiology department headed by Surmeier is one of the nation’s premier groups studying the physiology of movement disorders.  

To participate or learn more about this study, contact the research team at Northwestern’s Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center at (312) 503-0755 or by emailing pdclinicaltrials@northwestern.edu

The research is funded by grants 1 U01 NS080818-01A and 1 U01 NS080840-01A1 from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at NIH. 

The study also is supported by Carematix and Verizon.

Members of the media, please contact Marla Paul via e-mail or at (312) 503-8928 for more information about this story.

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