Where Parkinson’s disease treatment is today
The first area focused upon by doctors treating Parkinson’s disease today is replacing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls and coordinates movement. Parkinson’s disease destroys the cells in the brain that create dopamine. As levels of the chemical fall, the body is unable to move and function as it once did. Falling dopamine levels translate to increasing movement impairment.
The most commonly prescribed treatment for Parkinson’s disease seeks to stimulate dopamine receptors and relieve the symptoms caused by the decline in the neurotransmitter. However, over time, these medications become less efficient, and patients are no longer able to take them. In addition, these medicines do not reduce or eliminate many of the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, including mood swings, depression, forgetfulness, and sleep disturbances.
Unfortunately, research has yet to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. However, each year, scientists and doctors are working alongside each other to answer that call and find a treatment or prevention technique that will help patients with Parkinson’s disease find relief. Research is also seeking to understand who is more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease and what about their genetics and their environment increase their risk.
Here, some of what the future holds for treating and defeating Parkinson’s disease:
Medicine that provides sustained effects throughout the day
When researchers are developing the treatments of tomorrow, the first thing they want to know is what the medicines do not address today. For patients with Parkinson’s disease, one need is treatments that are sustained throughout the day. Currently, patients may have to take several doses in a day to sustain the beneficial effects of the medicine. Other patients experience worsening symptoms in the evening, after medication is no longer effective.
Advances in Deep Brain Stimulation
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved deep brain stimulation (DBS) as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease in 2002. However, since that time, advances have been limited because only one company was approved to make the device used to deliver the treatment. In future years, as more companies explore this area of treatment, the breakthroughs in DBS will grow.
Parkinson’s disease cannot be cured, and the progression of the condition cannot be slowed. Science also has no way to reverse the damage the brain suffers as a result of the condition. Gene therapy holds potential as a way to do all three things—cure, slow, and reverse Parkinson’s disease. Several small studies have found that gene therapy can be a safe and effective treatment for Parkinson’s disease. Larger studies are under way.
As researchers are trying to discover gene therapies that can prevent additional damage as a result of Parkinson’s disease, other scientists and researchers are trying to find neuroprotective therapies that can slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease and reduce the loss of dopamine-producing nerve cells. If such a therapy is discovered, patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease can begin taking it as soon as they know their diagnosis. This therapy could help stop the progression of the disease and prevent worsening symptoms.
Looking for a Biomarker
For as much as we know about Parkinson’s disease, doctors have very little they can use to evaluate the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Staging, while useful, only monitors the progression of motor symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease. Other grading symptoms are used but not widely enough to be recommended as a general guideline for physicians. However, a promising area of research may make evaluating and monitoring Parkinson’s disease easier and more exact. Researchers are hoping to discover a biomarker (a cell or gene) that will help doctors and lead to more effective treatments.
Repairing the brain cells lost as a result of Parkinson’s disease is a promising area of future Parkinson’s disease treatment. This procedure replaces diseased and dying brain cells with new cells that can grow and multiply. However, neural transplantation has a rocky research past: Some patients have done really well with the treatment, while others have seen no improvement as a result of the treatment and actually developed additional complications because of it.