University Neurologist to Lead Biggest Study Ever of Parkinson's Disease

December 14, 2001

A neurologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center has been chosen to lead the largest study ever of patients with Parkinson's disease.

Professor of Neurology Karl Kieburtz, M.D., will lead the study of 3,000 patients around the country who have Parkinson's disease. The five-year study, to be launched in late 2002 or in 2003, will be funded with approximately $6.5 million from the National Institutes of Health.

The study is the largest effort yet to find a way to slow the progression of the disease. About one million adults in North America have Parkinson's disease, in which several hundred thousand cells in a tiny region of the brain known as the substantia nigra degenerate and die. This results in symptoms that include slowness of movement, difficulty walking and swallowing, muscle stiffness, tremors, and rigidity.

Currently doctors use a range of medications to treat the symptoms, but there is no way to slow or prevent the death of brain cells that is at the heart of the disease.

"There is not a lot out there at this point to protect patients from further damage," says Kieburtz. "We have several candidates, but thus far none has been shown to slow the disease."

Kieburtz will coordinate doctors from 42 sites around North America who will track the health of the patients over a five-year period. The team will test the effectiveness of various substances at slowing the progression of the disease. Possibilities include obscure compounds in development in laboratories, as well as everyday substances like caffeine and nicotine.

In similar studies bringing together doctors and patients around the country, Medical Center physicians recently led a team that found that a skin patch under development to treat Parkinson's disease appears as effective as traditional oral medications. Last year doctors led another international team that showed that doctors now have a choice of treatments for newly diagnosed patients. The research is being done through the Department of Neurology's Clinical Trials Coordination Center, where Kieburtz serves as director.

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