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Purdue researcher studies how a World War II chemical can help treat Parkinson's Disease

Half a million people are currently living with the disease, and another 50,000 are diagnosed each year.

Posted: Dec. 9, 2018 11:54 PM
Updated: Dec. 13, 2018 9:15 AM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - Parkinson's Disease is the second leading cause of death in senior citizens. Half a million people are currently living with the disease, and another 50,000 are diagnosed each year.  It's a neurodegenerative disease that causes tremors and is extremely dehabilitating.

Muhammad Ali passed of the disease. Most recently, former President George H.W. Bush fought a type of Parkinson's called Vascular Parkinsonism. Michael J. Fox is another celebrity who currently suffers from the disease and is a big advocate for finding a cure.

Something Riyi Shi has spent part of the past 22 years at Purdue trying to do too.

"We are very much aware of the public medical need for this," he said. "We are actually working day and night to really really work on fighting this disease."

He and his team of researchers are looking at the effects a World War II chemical has on the brain. The chemical is called dimercaprol. It was originally used to fight metal poinsonings, such as arsenic, mercury, gold, and lead. It's a chemical that we don't really have much need for anymore, but Shi's research could put it back in the spotlight.

His research shows that the chemical is proving successful at removing acrolein, a neurotoxin that is produced in the body after nerve cells are damaged and that is directly correlated with Parkinson’s disease.

This would help slow down the onset of Parkinson's, something Shi said is crucial.

"It's been actually a very tough battle to treat Parkinsons Disease because once people are diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease, usually it's too late to reverse the cause," he said.

He said they have seen this success in animal testing and that they have gotten a lot of feedback from people who would be willing to try this method. He said because dimercaprol has already been tested and approved for human use, it should help speed the process of getting the drug approved.

Shi said he is greatful for his team of Purdue students helping conduct the research.

"They are the next generation that will hopefully see this cure come to life," he said.

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