Promises for Parkinson's: Researchers' five-year study offers new hope for patients
 
Published Wednesday, October 20, 2010 4:00 am
by Mary Beth Hislop - Town Crier Staff Writer

Hope is on the horizon for patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder of the nervous system that affects one in 500 people. More than 1 million people in the United States and an estimated 6.3 million worldwide are afflicted.

The hope lies in a five-year study at 18 sites across the country and in Europe targeted to identify one or more biomarkers of Parkinson’s progression that could aid researchers in developing new and advanced treatments. And perhaps find a cure.

Sponsored by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) will track 400 newly diagnosed Parkinson’s patients who have not initiated drug treatments and 200 individuals who do not have the disease, studying brain images, blood, urine and spinal fluid samples, and behavioral tests.

As one of the sites chosen to participate in the study, Sunnyvale’s Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center will collaborate with El Camino Hospital’s Radiology Department to follow 20 Parkinson’s patients and 10 controls.

It’s an exciting time for Dr. Caroline Tanner, who has studied and treated Parkinson’s at the Sunnyvale center for 20 of the 23 years since the center’s inception.

“We’re just starting our enrollment,” she said. “We have six people – three patients, three controls – we’re hoping to enroll 10, although if we have a lot of interest, we could enroll more people.”

Participants will undergo testing quarterly the first year, and twice yearly thereafter, Tanner said.

Identifying any measurable physical characteristic that changes over time that can be tied to Parkinson’s progression – a biomarker – is critical in developing new therapies. The difficulties with current treatments is that they treat the symptoms – the telltale tremors and shaking – but not necessarily the degenerative process that destroys the nerve cells controlling motor functions.

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