Dr. Ali Salahpour, Assistant Professor,
Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology,
University of Toronto
Pedaling for Parkinson’s New Investigator Award: $89,340 over two years

Identification and in vivo characterization of trace amine receptor antagonists for treatment of PD

As a child, what frustrated Ali Salahpour the most was when he asked “Why?” and the adult next to him responded “Because.” Unsatisfied, Salahpour would keep probing until he found the answer to the question that puzzled him. It was the perfect preparation for a research career.

When he discovered biochemistry as an undergraduate student at the University of Montreal, Salahpour was “blown away” by the elegant working of the human body, particularly at the cellular and molecular level. That interest propelled him in his quest to understand the biology of dopamine, one of the chemical communication systems in the brain. The loss of dopamine-producing brain cells ultimately results in Parkinson’s disease.

Currently, the University of Toronto pharmacologist is tackling the question of how and why a protein called TAAR1 blocks the action of dopamine in the brain. Salahpour and his colleagues reason that if they could find a drug that inhibits TAAR1, the dopamine blocker, they could increase the effects of the remaining dopamine in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease. Inhibiting the dopamine blocker could also enhance the effect of the dopamine replacement therapy most people with Parkinson’s disease receive, a drug known as levodopa.

“We think that by inhibiting TAAR1, we could potentially get the same beneficial effects of levodopa, but at lower doses so that we avoid some of the complications of levodopa treatment,” says Salahpour.
So far, Salahpour and his team have identified chemical compounds that block the TAAR1 protein. Now they’re testing them in animal models to see if they enhance the effects of dopamine in the animals’ brains. Eventually, they hope to attract a major pharmaceutical company that will take their work through its next phases to an eventual drug trial.

“I’m very excited about this project,” says Salahpour. “This money that the Parkinson’s Society has given us is huge. It’s the boost and the catalyst that will keep us going and help us to further our studies. These funds will go a long way, and hopefully we will be able to find drugs that improve patients’ lives.”