A ground breaking Cure Parkinson’s supported study that involved screening over 230,000 molecules has identified farnesol, a molecule commonly found in essential oils and plant-derived foods, as a new potential treatment of Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s is characterised by a toxic accumulation of proteins in cells. A lot of research into the biology of Parkinson’s is focused on a protein called alpha-synuclein, but this is not the only protein that accumulates in the brains of people with Parkinson’s.

A research team at Johns Hopkins Medicine, led by Professor Ted Dawson, has been investigating another protein that accumulates in the Parkinson’s brain, ‘Parkin Interacting Substrate’ or PARIS. The team have previously reported that a build-up of this protein causes neurodegeneration, and blocking this accumulation has rescued models of Parkinson’s.

Now, in a Cure Parkinson’s funded project, these same investigators, in collaboration with South Korean scientists, have conducted a large scale drug screening study to identify molecules that block cell death caused by PARIS accumulation. By screening 230,000 drug-like compounds, they have identified a molecule called farnesol as a potential treatment.

What is farnesol?

Farnesol is a component of vitamin K and naturally occurs in fruits such as peaches, in vegetables such as tomatoes and corn, and in herbs such as lemongrass and chamomile. Its name originated from the acacia tree, Vachellia Farnesiana, which was grown for its perfume in Rome after its earlier importation from central America. Farnesol has been commercially produced from the flowers of the acacia tree for hundreds of years, and is still widely used in perfumery to emphasise sweet, floral scents and is also widely present in consumer products. It is not yet, however, approved for medical use.

Prof Dawson and his team found that farnesol robustly blocks the detrimental effects of PARIS build-up in cells grown in the lab. The team also fed mice a diet high in farnesol and reported that it accessed the brain, reduced the negative effects of PARIS and protected different models of Parkinson’s.

As part of our effort to bring novel disease-modifying therapies to the Parkinson’s community, Cure Parkinson’s is urgently exploring taking farnesol into safety and dose finding evaluations to progress its clinical development. To this end the research team at Cure Parkinson’s have written a paper outlining the drug screen to discover farnesol, the relevant Parkinson’s research within the wider drug class, issues surrounding its future formulation, and importantly, the next steps in translating this new knowledge into the clinic to evaluate possible long-term benefits for people with Parkinson’s.

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