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Parkinson's Disease

A breakthrough for Parkinson’s patients

Parkinson’s stricken individuals resistant to conventional treatments may finally have something to cheer about, if the optimistic enthusiasm of a neuroscience professor over a ‘ground breaking’ surgical procedure proves to be well founded. Although it may be years before it becomes publically available, the man behind the new surgical approach, Professor John Reynolds of the Otago University says that when it does, his procedure may prove to be a major breakthrough in the global hunt for a Parkinson’s treatment.

“Typically in Parkinson’s disease, people lose the capacity to make dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with reward and excitement and reinforcement, but most critically with movement.” Put simply when we lose dopamine we cannot move and become prey to a whole range of problems related to movement, like tremors, poor posture, awkward gait and imbalance.

Recently this breakthrough was showcased at a conference in San Diego by lead researcher Dr Barry Snow. In the procedure capsules of pig cells are injected into the brain, which in turn are able to reverse some of the damage caused by the loss of dopamine. So far in trials the procedure has proved promising. In a trial four chronic Parkinson’s patients who were not showing any response to conventional therapies, recovered many of their motor functions.

The results from this small study have validated that first, it is possible to safely administer the treatment and second, doing so yields positive results. As the study leaders pointed out, though extremely small the results of the trial set the stage very nicely for proper phase two trials a few years down the road. However, despite the encouraging results thus far, Dr Reynolds says that it’s unlikely to ever be the default first-line response to Parkinson’s.

“These are people who have failed drug therapy. There’s a limited number of years that one can have good treatment from drugs. It’s not going to be your front line – it requires a surgical treatment.” Although this may indeed the case, for the millions of people afflicted by the relentlessly crippling neurodegenerative disease, it does offer a significant reason to hope.

The second, larger phase of the study is due to start later this year.

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