Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center have begun recruiting patients to evaluate potential new treatment options for movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease. The experimental therapies are designed to provide more consistent relief of the basic symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as involuntary shaking, slowness of movement and walking and balance problems. Later this year, the center also plans to offer a new research program for patients with Huntington's Disease.
“The primary goals are to find new drugs that are effective for early symptoms and then continue to provide long-term relief with fewer side effects,” says William J. Weiner, M.D., Professor of Neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorder Program.
These clinical trials are each a part of larger multi-center studies that are evaluating the effectiveness of several medications, including rasagiline, entacapone and levodopa ethyl ester.
“We still have a long way to go in the treatment of movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s Disease and Tourettes Syndrome,” says Lisa M. Shulman, M.D., associate professor of neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a neurologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center. “Our hope is that through studies like these, we can offer our patients improved daily function and improved quality of life.”
Parkinson’s disease is one of the most common movement disorders. It is a lifelong neurological condition that increasingly affects a person’s ability to perform the normal activities of daily living. It is characterized by a tremor at rest, a general slowing of pace and a slow shuffling gait that may be associated with loss of balance. Speech can become soft and difficult to understand. Symptoms progress slowly over time.
Celebrities like Michael J. Fox, Janet Reno, Muhammad Ali and Pope John Paul II have fostered a global appreciation of Parkinson’s disease, but there is still no known cause or cure for this disorder. Treatment options offer relief from symptoms, but they become less effective as the disease progresses. The irony is that the drugs currently used to treat Parkinson’s contribute to the development of yet another symptom known as dyskinesia, or drug-related involuntary movements. These movements resemble restless wriggling or even gyrating movements that at times can cause as much trouble as the Parkinson’s itself.
“It’s critical that we continue to look for more effective drugs that can more efficiently manage symptoms and restore function,” says Dr. Shulman. “The onset of Parkinson’s disease is often when people are in their 50s and 60s. These are important and productive decades of life.”
Younger persons in their 30s and 40s can also be affected. Approximately 2-3 percent of Parkinson’s patients are younger than 40 and about 10 percent are younger than 50 at the beginning of their disease. Fox, for example, is a young actor who resigned from a highly successful comedy series because the progression of Parkinson’s disease made it impossible for him to film without obvious symptoms and/or extreme fatigue. Earlier onset of the disorder requires careful selection of treatment options in order to minimize complications since younger persons will require treatment over a much longer span of time.
Clinical research studies look at both new and existing drugs and analyze both new combinations and dosages. “None of these drugs is perfect when prescribed alone,” says Dr. Weiner. “We generally balance the effects of a variety of drugs to get the best possible results. We are always looking for new treatment options for our patients.
“We’re at an exciting time in terms of new treatment options for Parkinson’s disease,” says Dr. Weiner, who joined the University of Maryland Medical Center last fall and is co-author of a new book coming out this spring on the topic. The book, Parkinson’s Disease: A Complete Guide for Patients and Families, was co-authored by Dr. Shulman and Anthony E. Lang, M.D., professor of neurology at the University of Toronto. The book, a comprehensive resource for understanding the medical, emotional and practical challenges of life with Parkinson’s disease, was published by Johns Hopkins University Press.
In honor of Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, on Saturday, April 21, at the BWI Marriott Hotel, the University of Maryland School of Medicine will be sponsoring two educational seminars.
Physicians and other health care professionals involved in the diagnosis and management of Parkinson’s disease may attend the continuing medical education symposium entitled, Parkinson’s Disease 2001: Management Update, from 8:30 a.m.-noon. This will be followed by the seminar for patients and their families, called Parkinson’s Disease 2001: Current Issues, from 1-4 p.m. The patient session will consist of a panel of experts who will discuss medical and surgical treatment options for Parkinson’s disease and strategies to help people adjust to living with this disorder. An hour has been set aside for questions and answers. Everyone who wishes to attend should call 1-800-492-5538.
For patient inquiries, call 1-800-492-5538 or click here to make an appointment.