A small but encouraging study appears to show that a drug already available on the Canadian market has the potential to reverse symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, lending new hope to researchers looking for cures to neurodegenerative diseases.

The U.S. study of just 12 people is considered preliminary, and its findings have yet to be confirmed by large-scale research. But early results seem to show surprisingly positive signs, say researchers at the Georgetown University Medical Centre.

The dozen patients involved -- six with Parkinson’s disease, six with a similar condition called Lewy Body dementia -- were given the drug Tasigna, typically used for patients with leukemia, and instructed to take it once a day.

After several months, 11 patients showed significant improvement in their ability to speak, walk and perform everyday tasks – functions they had partially or completely lost as their conditions worsened.

One woman who had been unable to talk or get out of bed was able to communicate with her doctors and was filmed feeding herself soup after five months on the drug, doctors said.

“I never anticipated seeing this type of improvement, especially in some of these end-stage patients – stage three, four and five of Parkinson’s disease. So that’s why we’re really excited,” said Dr. Fernando Pagan, a neurologist with MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

Researchers believe Tasigna works as a sort of neurological garbage bin; through a process called autophagy, the drug appears to dispose of neurotoxic proteins that cluster in the brain, leading to improvements in neurological function.

“With a drug that’s already FDA approved, that’s already in the clinic, that already has safety there, we can prove that we can reverse the symptoms that are associated with Parkinson’s disease,” said Dr. Charbel Moussa, a researcher with Georgetown's Laboratory of Dementia and Parkinsonism.

It’s a small but notable step forward in the fight against neurodegenerative diseases like ALS, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, all of which currently have no cure.

Two studies have been commissioned for early 2016 and will look at how patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases respond to Tasigna. The drug has already been approved by Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

At least 100,000 Canadians suffer from Parkinson’s disease, according to Parkinson Society Canada, and about 10 million people are believed to have the disease worldwide.

With files from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip