A team of international scientists announced a medical breakthrough in Singapore on Thursday that could improve millions of lives: existing anti-malaria drugs have the ability to treat Parkinson’s disease, according to new research by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital. Parkinson’s is a fatal degenerative disorder that impacts the central nervous system, causing people to lose control of motor movements. Seven to ten million people worldwide are currently diagnosed with the disease and there is no known cure.
After screening over 1000 drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the scientists discovered that chloroquine and amodiaquine—two common anti-malaria treatments—could bind and activate a class of proteins in the brain vital to fight Parkinson’s. Called Nurr1, these proteins protect the brain’s ability to generate dopamine neurons, which are essential to the body’s movement of muscles. Patients with the disease gradually cease the production of dopamine neurons, thus losing motor control.