Haims: new Parkinson’s research is making a difference
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic neurologic condition that causes a gradual loss of the nerve cells in the brain that produce a chemical messenger called dopamine. Dopamine relays signals throughout the brain that help movements and speech. When the production of dopamine is impaired or when the brain cells that produce it start to die off, people can have trouble initiating movement and develop uncontrollable tremors.
The most effective medication for Parkinson’s disease is called levodopa. Levodopa is a drug that gets converted into dopamine within the cells of the brain region called the substantia nigra. While levodopa is proven to increase dopamine levels and therefore helps with movement, its efficacy over time becomes diminished.
For people who have been taking levodopa for a long time and whose PD may be moderate or advanced, this is often a distressful time. To compensate for the efficacy loss of levodopa, doctors often prescribe increases in dosage and/or adjust the dosage frequency. Unfortunately, increasing the dosage and/or modifying the times the levodopa is taken often causes side effects such as restlessness, confusion, and other movement issues.
New research is quite promising
Over the past few years, there have been some potentially significant developments in Parkinson’s disease. Scientific research from many countries across the world is yielding new insight for treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
Some of the research under review consists of gene therapy, cell therapy, and a greater understanding of how the gut and inflammation play roles in the development of the disease.
Gene therapy and cell therapy are two fields of biomedical research that have very similar goals — treating PD at a microscopic level.
Scientists believe that gene therapy will assist the brain in developing more dopamine — the chemical that goes missing in people affected with Parkinson’s. By use of gene therapy, scientists are able to engineer a virus that can carry new genetic material into cells that may be defective. It is thought that by introducing engineered genetic material that increase dopamine-related activity, lower doses of levodopa medication can be taken.
Cell therapy is the use of cells that are taken either from a Parkinson’s patient or a donor to treat the disease. Stem cells are often used in this therapy as they can mature into different types of specialized cells.
Scientists believe that by removing cells from the body and altering the genes inside, they can put them back in the body and stimulate the new dopamine-producing neurons. New and emerging research from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, the University of Edinburgh, China and Australia is showing great promise for cell therapy to make a difference in the lives of PD patients.
As with many functions of the brain, the gut plays a roll. Because gut bacteria can interfere with effectiveness in which levodopa converts to dopamine, the relationship of gut/brain is proving to be quite interesting.
As researchers have been looking for causes of PD, the gastrointestinal tract has become a focus. Some studies show that a protein called alpha-synuclein, which is abnormal in PD, travels from the brain to the stomach via a group of nerves called the vagus nerve.
Dr. Filip Scheperjans from the Department of Neurology at the Helsinki University Hospital in Finland stated in a recent article that, “There is accumulating evidence that at least in some patients, the origin of the disease may lie in the gut with possible involvement of abnormal protein aggregates, local inflammation, and the gut microbiome.”
If you would like to learn more about how researchers are using these technologies to help cure PD, please go online and search for this article in the Vail Daily. The electronic version of this article has hyperlinks provided that will direct you to articles that will provide greater detail. As well, you can Google each of the following search terms: gene therapy and Parkinson’s disease, cell therapy and Parkinson’s disease, and gut and Parkinson’s.
If you would like learn more about Parkinson disease from renowned researcher Dr. Hubert Fernandez at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Neuro-Restoration, Google: World Congress on Parkinson’s Disease and Related Disorders or click on this link to watch and listen to Dr. Fernandez and other leading researchers speak about their research.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. He can be contacted at www.visitingangels.com/comtns or by phone at 970-328-5526.
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