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Critical Discovery for Parkinson's

New Research in Cell Development Gets Help From 'Hedgehog'
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WebMD Health News

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Nov. 6, 2002 -- Researchers are working hard to unlock the mysteries of Parkinson's disease, to understand the biological mechanisms that drive the disease -- and that can lead to new treatments. The "Hegdehog" protein is one of these mechanisms. And new discoveries related to it could even mean better therapies for certain cancers.

A new paper outlines recent findings about what scientists call the "Hedgehog signaling pathway," a system that is essential for keeping the human body supplied with healthy cells. Studies have shown that essentially all major organs require some input from this system for cell health, maintenance, and repair.

(The "Hedgehog" protein was first identified in fruitflies and is so called because fruitfly embryos that had a defect in the protein were covered in bristles.)

Jeffrey A. Porter, PhD, a researcher with the biotechnology company, Curis Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., is lead author of the report, which appears in the latest Journal of Biology.

Porter and his colleagues have discovered a group of molecules that "could have exciting therapeutic benefits," he says a news release. These molecules interact with a protein found on the surface of developing cells and alter the pathway to stimulate or inhibit excess cell growth.

And because the Hedgehog pathway is critical for such cell growth and division, researchers investigating diseases like Parkinson's are interested in finding out what regulates the pathway.

In the case of Parkinson's disease, the researchers hope these molecules could lead to new drugs that could stimulate the pathway to create new cells. Parkinson's disease is characterized by a lack of particular cells as the central nervous system degenerates.

As for cancer, abnormal functioning of this pathway has been implicated particularly in basal cell cancers. Therefore, drugs based on the newly found molecules could block the system and provide a novel approach for treating these cancers.

In fact, recent animal studies shown that the hegdehog system itself can reduce the behavioral impairments and nerve cell loss that occurs in Parkinson's, this creates -- more evidence that drugs that affect this process could be beneficial

One major drawback: Because the hegdehog protein is so large any treatment would involve direct injection into the brain on the other hand these small molecule that the researchers studied may prove to be therapeutically useful to manipulate the hedgehog system.

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