High urate levels seen slowing Parkinson's disease
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Parkinson's disease worsens at a slower pace in people with naturally higher levels of a compound called urate in their blood, suggesting a possible new way to help fight the incurable ailment, researchers said on Monday.
Urate, the salt form of uric acid, is a prominent component of blood, urine and spinal fluid. It also is a powerful antioxidant that may protect cells from damage and its antioxidant potency rivals that of vitamin C.
The researchers looked at data from a previously conducted study of about 800 people with early Parkinson's disease who were tracked for about two years.
Patients whose urate levels were in the highest 20 percent of all the study participants were half as likely as those with levels in the lowest 20 percent to have their disease progress to the point they needed medication to treat their symptoms.
In addition, brain scans showed evidence that those with higher urate levels also lost the fewest dopamine-producing neurons, the type of brain cell affected by the disease.
"We found that higher levels of urate among people with early Parkinson's disease is associated with a slower rate of Parkinson's progression," Dr. Michael Schwarzschild of Massachusetts General Hospital, who helped lead the study, said in a telephone interview.
The findings appear in the journal Archives of Neurology.
Parkinson's disease is caused by the destruction of brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, which normally sends signals that help coordinate the body's movements. It typically develops after age 60 but can appear earlier in some people.
Symptoms can include trembling, muscle rigidity, difficulty walking, problems with balance and slowed movements. The disease gets worse over time and there is no cure but some treatments can help control symptoms for a time.
Other recent research showed healthy people with naturally higher levels of urate had a reduced risk of developing Parkinson's disease. Schwarzschild said those findings along with the new results involving Parkinson's patients indicate the urate could inspire new drugs intended to slow the disease's progression.
Coinciding with the publication of the new findings, the Michael J. Fox Foundation announced a $5.6 million grant to fund a clinical trial involving about 90 patients with early Parkinson's to explore whether a chemical called inosine, which is a building block of urate, may be useful to slow the progression of the disease.
The foundation is named after the actor who has the disease. Schwarzschild will head the new study.
While urate appears to hold promise in the fight against Parkinson's disease, Schwarzschild cautioned against taking it in supplement form in an attempt to control the condition. He emphasized that high levels of urate are associated with the development of two painful conditions -- gout and a certain kind of kidney stones.
"Outside of a well-monitored clinical trial, it wouldn't be a safe thing for patients with Parkinson's or the general public to be trying to do -- at least with the information we have now," Schwarzschild said.
The study whose data led to the new findings focused on an experimental compound that failed to slow the progression of Parkinson's disease in the patients.
(Editing by Maggie Fox and Bill Trott)