Researchers studying the Hedgehog signaling pathway have identified small molecules that could form the foundations of exciting new treatments for Parkinsons disease and certain cancers.
New research published in Journal of Biology - the open access journal for exceptional research - has identified small molecules that are able to stimulate or block the Hedgehog signalling pathway, which is essential to the development, maintenance and repair of cells in the human body. The potential of these molecules to be used as drugs to treat both degenerative diseases and cancer is exciting as their small size may allow these molecules to enter all parts of the body and cross the blood brain barrier, eliminating the need for injections of therapeutics directly into the target site.
The Hedgehog signaling pathway is crucial to the development of healthy animals as well as the maintenance and repair of adult cells. Hedgehog genes were first identified in the fruitfly, and were so called because fly embryos with a defect in this gene were covered in bristles. The central role of the Hedgehog signalling pathway in the regulation of the growth and division of specific types of cells makes it of great interest to researchers investigating diseases like Parkinsons that are characterised by a lack of particular cells as the central nervous system degenerates. Finding drugs that can stimulate the Hedgehog signaling pathway and lead to the production of new cells could potentially cure this disease. It is also hoped that by developing drugs that block the Hedgehog signalling pathway researchers will be able to induce the regression of tumours in patients with certain cancers that depend on this pathway (specifically, basal cell carcinoma and medulloblastoma).
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