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New Treatments For Parkinson's Patients

Medical Handbook

A team of doctors at the University of Kentucky will investigate new treatments for patients with Parkinson’s disease.   It potentially could reverse the brain damage done by Parkinson’s.

The current clinical trial focuses on transplanting a nerve taken from a patient’s ankle and implanting it in the brain.  So far, five patients have undergone the procedure.  Principal investigator Craig van Horne says the newly grafted nerves are also stimulated by electrodes.  Over time, Van Horne says the hope is, the brain will heal.

“If we have substantial improvements, that would be something that’s really worth looking into further.  Even if we don’t reverse it, but if we can just halt the progression, I think we would be better off than we are now,” said van Horne.

Parkinson’s is one of the most common neurological disorders, affecting at least ten-thousand Kentuckians.  It’s a progressive and degenerative disease causing tremors, rigidity, slow movement, and speech impairment.  There is no known cure for Parkinson’s. 

Lexington patient Rodney Parsons underwent the deep brain stimulation procedure last spring.  Even without the nerve grafting, it made quite a difference.

“I was walking way bent over like this, stood straight up immediately, and turned it on and that’s been it,” said Parsons.

Doctor Greg Gerhardt, who directs the Morris K-Udall Parkinson’s Disease Research Center, says the ailment is quite common in rural areas like Appalachia.

“Environmental effects on individuals such as toxins and or metals, heavy metals, well water seem to increase the incidence of Parkinson’s disease,” explained Gerhardt.

Still, Gerhardt says the disease’s cause remains a total mystery. Researchers say it may take about a year to determine how well this nerve therapy works.