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Researchers have found a gene that may explain why coffee may lower the risk of Parkinson's disease for some people, and that might explain why some experimental drugs do not appear to be working. About a quarter of the population carries this version of the gene, and drug developers may be more successful if they test people for it, Haydeh Payami of the New York State Department of Health told the World Parkinson Congress in Glasgow on Wednesday
"We are trying to explain why some people benefit from the effects of coffee in terms of reducing the risk of getting Parkinson's disease and others don't," Payami said in a telephone interview. "But by extension I am proposing that this translates into explaining why drugs that are like caffeine that are in clinical trials are not succeeding," she added. "The immediate application right now would be for people who already have Parkinson's."
They identified a gene called GRIN2A that appeared to protect people who drank coffee from developing Parkinson's. "About 25 percent of the population has the variant that boosts the protective effect of coffee," Payami said.
Parkinson's is a fatal and incurable brain disease that affects 1 percent to 2 percent of people over 65. It can begin with tremors, sluggish movement, muscle stiffness, and difficulty with balance. Drugs such as levodopa, GlaxoSmithKline's Requip, or ropinirole, and Boehringer Ingelheim's Mirapex, or pramipexole, can improve symptoms for a while.