Tapping into a new source of information about Parkinson’s disease

Dr. Christel Renoux
McGill University
Pilot Project Grant
Funded by Parkinson Québec
$50,000 over 1 year
Beta 2 agonists and the incidence of Parkinson’s disease

The UK’s Department of Health maintains a powerful research resource called the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) an electronic archive that has accumulated medical information from 42 million individuals. The database includes 30 years’ worth of details about any diseases people had and what drugs they have taken.

Dr. Christel Renoux, a researcher with the Centre for Clinical Epidemiology at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, is consulting this massive database for information about patients who took medications known as beta2-adrenoreceptors agonists (ß2 agonists).

These drugs appear to play a key part in limiting the development of accumulations of abnormal proteins in nerve cells, which are associated with Parkinson’s and other disorders.

“In a study with one ß2 agonist, called salbutamol, it was associated with a 34% decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease,” explains Renoux.

Searching the archive could produce more detailed information and confirm—or negate—the medication’s effects in thousands more people, without having to recruit patients for a large, costly and time-consuming clinical trial.

“This is a gold mine of data because you have all the medical history and lifestyle factors of patients who have been followed in real life, not as part of a particular study.”

Renoux will be investigating whether some aspect of a patient’s health might have interfered with their response to the ß2 agonist, for instance.

“This is a gold mine of data because you have all the medical history and lifestyle factors of patients who have been followed in real life, not as part of a particular study,” she says.

Renoux’s research will add to researchers’ understanding of what it takes to protect the brain and the nervous system from the onset of Parkinson’s.

More importantly, drugs such as salbutamol have already been approved by Health Canada for other uses, so if these ß2 agonists are effective against Parkinson’s, they could reach patients in short order.

“We have already studied how these drugs can slow down the degradation of the dopamine-producing cells in the brains of laboratory mice, but the challenge has always been to translate these effects from animal studies into human work,” says Renoux. “This research will help us ensure that we can deliver on the promise of these drugs.”