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A compound naturally found in shark tissue may be able to prevent the speech decline that often affects people diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
According to researchers at the University of Cambridge, squalamine, which is a naturally-occurring steroid in the tissue of dogfish sharks, has the potential to minimise a number of the symptoms commonly associated with the degenerative condition.
Scientists set out to explore the medical benefits of squalamine, finding that applying it to cells could help to prevent the formation of toxic aggregates in the protein alpha-synuclein. Previous research has shown that this process can kickstart the biological events that lead to the development of Parkinson's disease.
Therefore, by inhibiting this process before it can begin, doctors hope that they could prevent the disease from manifesting, and if they cannot manage this fully, they at least believe that squalamine could lessen some of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, such as slurred speech and other forms of cognitive impairment.
To test this theory, the scientists triggered alpha-synuclein in worms, before injecting them with squalamine from shark tissue to observe its effects. It was found that while the biological process caused them to become paralysed, as Parkinson's disease can, when squalamine entered into the equation, this paralysis could be successfully prevented.
Professor Michele Vendruscolo, co-author of the study, commented: "This is an encouraging step forward in our efforts to discover potential drugs against Parkinson's disease.
"Squalamine can prevent alpha-synuclein from malfunctioning, essentially by normalising its binding to lipid membranes. If there are going to be ways to beat the disease, it seems likely that this is one that may work."
Fellow study co-author Professor Christopher Dobson explained that further extensive investigations are needed before squalamine can be used on humans to prevent the development of Parkinson's disease and related speech problems.
However, he said that, in the future, he hopes to see a viable preventative treatment for the condition developed from squalamine itself or some form of derivative.
Written by Martin Lambert
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