Research at Iowa State University may one day lead to treatments that will halt, or even reverse, the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

Anumantha Kanthasamy, chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, together with researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, have patented a compound that reversed early-stage symptoms of Parkinson’s in laboratory mice. The compound, mitoapocynin, could be approved for human clinical trials in the near future.

While the cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, the onset of Parkinson’s is believed to be associated with neurons damaged by oxidative stress generated in their mitochondria, the organelles that supply the vital energy to run the cells. Early symptoms include losing the sense of smell, disturbed sleep, impaired gut motility, and decreased motor function. The key to mitoapocynin’s success at inhibiting oxidative stress lies in its design to specifically and efficiently penetrate mitochondria.

Kanthasamy and a team of researchers at the College of Veterinary Medicine administered small doses of the compound over more than a year to genetically engineered mouse models of Parkinson’s disease and compared the results with a control group. The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“A very small amount of the compound works very well. We treated the animals for several months without toxicity and the animals are improving,” Kanthasamy said. He added that both the sense of smell and motor coordination of mice treated with mitoapocynin improved during treatment.

Kanthasamy noted that Iowa State’s preeminence in veterinary medicine is a critical asset to the discovery of cures for life-threatening diseases. His research team explores many novel treatment strategies for Parkinson’s disease.

“The College of Veterinary Medicine represents a tremendous asset to the state of Iowa because of the type of animal research we can do here. For many human health problems, we cannot study all their aspects in humans. It’s impossible. The animal models are integral to developing better treatments and better diagnoses,” he said.

Finding treatments to prevent or reverse diseases like Parkinson’s are a part of Iowa State University’s Destination 2050 – a campus-wide initiative to deploy the resources and expertise at Iowa State to meet the needs of the world’s 9.6 billion people a generation from now.