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Siberian scientists on brink of Parkinson’s cure

By Anna Liesowska
06 December 2014

Hope for millions around world with preparations under way for clinical trials on people starting next year.

'Our substance helps to restore the balance of neurotransmitters and is mild and works without major side effects.' Picture: Vesti.ru

Siberian scientists are spearheading the global fight against Parkinson’s disease with tests about to begin on a possible cure. Researchers at the Vorozhtsov Institute of Organic Chemistry, in Novosibirsk, have already completed trials on animals using a new substance derived from turpentine.

There is hope the chemical, which is mild and could be the first to work without any major side effects, could hold the key to eradicating the debilitating condition.

Physicians around the world are keeping a close eye on developments in Siberia, particularly as no cure yet exists to help the 10 million people with the illness globally. If trials begin next year, a medication could be available to use before 2019.

'Our substance helps to restore the balance of neurotransmitters and is mild and works without major side effects,' said head chemist Konstantin Volcho. 'Currently the tests on animals are nearing completion so the next stage would be to test on human volunteers. Sufferers are telling the scientists to hurry up – they’re calling and writing to the project manager asking us to accelerate the research.'

Bottles with turpentine


Creating the medicine


In the laboratory

'Currently the tests on animals are nearing completion so the next stage would be to test on human volunteers. Sufferers are telling the scientists to hurry up.' Picture: Vesti.ru

It is thought as many as 523,000 people in Russia suffer from Parkinson’s, a debilitating condition in which part of the brain slowly becomes more damaged over many years. Russian chess grandmaster Leonid Shamkovich, who died in 2005, was among the famous people afflicted by the disease.

The main symptoms are tremors or shaking of parts of the body, particularly the hands, slow movement and stiff and inflexible muscles. However, sufferers can also experience other problems including depression, constipation, insomnia and memory loss.

Currently there is no cure for the illness, which is caused by a loss of nerve cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. This, in turn, leads to a reduction in the brain in the amount of a chemical called dopamine, which regulates movement.

Scientists are still undecided about what causes the condition, although the majority believe it is a combination of genetic and environmental reasons. The research team in Novosibirsk has been working with a complex formula of turpentine in their possible cure.

Physicians have long known that turpentine baths soothe nervous patients, with some clinics in Russia already using them to dampen down the symptoms of Parkinson’s. In preparation for clinical trials on people, a company in Tomsk is already compiling a list of volunteers to take part.

Konstantin Volcho


Nariman Salakhutdinov

Konstantin Volcho, Chief Researcher of the Novosibirsk Institute of Organic Chemistry (top). Nariman Salakhutdinov, Head of Department of Medical Chemistry, Novosibirsk Institute of Organic Chemistry (bottom). Picture: SB RAS, Vesti.ru

Nariman Salakhutdinov, the head of the medical chemistry department at the institute, said he had been inundated with requests for the drug, even though it has not been fully tested.

He said: 'Somehow they managed to find my mobile phone number, and they have been calling from all over the world. But it’s not a medication yet, it’s only a chemical agent so, of course, I can’t give it to anyone.

'The only thing I can advise to all the patients getting in touch with me is that the company Innovative Pharmacology Research (IPHAR) in Tomsk is creating a database of people ready to volunteer for the clinical tests.'

Turpentine is obtained by the distillation of resin from pine trees, and it is most commonly used as paint thinner. However, has had medicinal uses as far back as the 15th century, when seamen navigating the globe used it to treat cuts and wounds, or as a treatment for hair lice. Mixed with animal fat it is also used as a chest rub or inhaler for nasal and throat ailments.

Clinical trials with people for the Parkinson’s cure will only begin next year if the Russian government continues to foot the multi-million-rouble research bill.

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