Party Drug Hope for Parkinsons

Originally appearing at Perth scientists are hoping tweaked versions of the party drug ecstasy will help treat Parkinson’s disease, a rare form of cancer, and post-traumatic stress disorder. But they say like all areas of university-based research, future funding is under a cloud. University of WA researchers believe modified versions of the drug, also known as MDMA, could have powerful therapeutic benefits without being psychoactive. They say ecstasy produces feelings of euphoria and other psychological effects which make it a target for abuse, but it might have an upside for some patients. One modified compound in particular, dubbed UWA-101, has been found in animal trials to significantly reduce the involuntary movements associated with the prolonged use of the drug levodopa, which is used to treat Parkinson’s disease, and also make it more effective. Other versions of ecstasy are being studied as a treatment for the rare cancer Burkitt’s lymphoma. They are also being tested as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder by encouraging people to open up about their problems. Medicinal chemist Matthew Piggott, from UWA’s School of Biomedical, Biomolecular and Chemical Sciences, said more work was needed, including addressing concerns the drug could kill off neurons in the brain, though it appeared so far that ecstasy “analogues” did not do this. Associate Professor Piggott said progress had been slow so far but he was hopeful the research could pay off in the form of new therapeutic drugs. “So far, most of the work has been funded through small charitable bodies, with a bit of help from the university, but that type of funding is drying up so hopefully we can get a grant,” he said. “But if funding for the National Health and Medical Research Council is cut by $400 million, that will affect everyone doing research.” Prime Minister Julia Gillard appeared to distance herself from reports of the planned research Budget cuts yesterday, describing them as speculation, as hundreds more researchers rallied in protest in Brisbane. “For those who have reacted and even gone out and demonstrated because of their concerns, I’d say the moment to judge is on Budget night,” she said. “There has never been more money invested in medical research in this nation’s history than there is today, right now, under this Government.” Researchers at the University of Western Australia are studying whether modified versions of MDMA could help increase the effectiveness (and possible help decrease the side-effects) of certain pharmaceutical treatments for Parkinson’s disease. Other scientists suspect that MDMA analogues could help treat a rare form of cancer. The possible value of MDMA itself as an adjunct to psychotherapy, of course, is already gaining widespread recognition. It’s clear that MDMA research holds a great deal of promise, and the only way to know what it can and cannot do for patients with a variety of illnesses is to make sure that funding for the research continues.