The illicit drug 'ecstasy' may be used to develop medicines that curb involuntary movements in Parkinson's disease, finds a study.
A team led by a medicinal chemist at The University of Western Australia (UWA) studied the possibility. Matthew Piggott, associate professor, said Parkinson's patients have a great deal of difficulty moving without medication.
The drug, levodopa, restores their movement but, over time, side-effects often develop. These include a reduction in therapeutic duration and jerky, involuntary movements known as dyskinesia.
"Dyskinesia is often confused as a symptom of Parkinson's disease, when in fact it is a side-effect of the treatment," Piggott was quoted as saying in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
"For some time now we've known that the drug most commonly sold as 'ecstasy', methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), ameliorates the side-effects of levodopa therapy. But MDMA has no therapeutic potential because it makes users 'high'," said Piggot, according to a university statement.
"Although controversial, there is also evidence that MDMA may be neurotoxic, or at least responsible for long-term, deleterious changes in brain chemistry," Piggot said.
The team of UWA scientists, collaborating with Parkinson's disease experts in Toronto, has now demonstrated that it is possible to de-link the beneficial effects of MDMA from its undesirable attributes. The feat was achieved through the creation of MDMA analogues - new compounds with a similar chemical structure to MDMA.
"The best compound, which we call UWA-101, is even more effective than MDMA at enhancing the quality of levodopa therapy," said Piggot.
If translated to a medicine, this would mean that Parkinson's patients could take their medication less frequently and get a better quality result from it," Piggot added.