MANATEE -- There has been a discovery in the world of Parkinson's disease that has neuroscientists like Dr. Dean Sutherland of the Sarasota and Manatee-based Neuro Challenge Foundation for Parkinson's excited.
The discovery, made recently at Georgetown University, is that a new drug called Tasigna made by Novartis for chronic myeloid leukemia, actually seems to be able to get to the root of what causes Parkinson's and stop it, Sutherland said last week.
Clinical trials of Tasigna for Parkinson's application, while in their very early stages, are so promising that Sutherland is planning to make Tasigna the subject of his speech at the upcoming annual Sarasota Parkinson's Symposium hosted by Neuro Challenge Foundation for Parkinson's and Sarasota Memorial Health Care System, the doctor confirmed.
Dr. Kenneth Vives, formerly of Yale School of Medicine and currently a neurosurgeon at Sarasota Spine Specialists, and, like Sutherland a nationally recognized Parkinson expert, will also deliver a speech at the symposium. Vives is expected to talk about deep brain stimulation techniques for Parkinson's, Sutherland said.
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The symposium has in the past drawn a sell-out crowd of more than 5,000 including 500 Parkinson's patients and health care professionals from as far away as Ontario, Canada, Sutherland said.
This year's symposium, scheduled for 9 a.m. Jan. 23, will be at Sarasota Memorial Institute for Advanced Medicine, 5880 Rand Blvd., Sarasota. The symposium costs $25 and includes breakfast at 8:30 a.m. Any inquiry regarding tickets should be directed to 941-926-6413 or visit neurochallenge.org.
As Parkinson's patients and caregivers know, Parkinson's disease is associated with low levels of dopamine, Sutherland said. But a drug called Levodopa increases levels of dopamine in the body, Sutherland said.
"For the last 50 years or so, treatment for PD has involved replacing dopamine with Levodopa or other drugs like it, Sutherland said.
Although these drugs like Levodopa can bring relief from the stiffness, tremors, spasms, and poor muscle control of Parkinson's disease it doesn't cure it, Sutherland said.
"So, at Georgetown, they were are trying to get to the root cause of Parkinson's and stop it when they discovered what Tasigna can do," Sutherland said.
Tasigna seems to be able to "take out the garbage" in brain cells, specifically clumps that cause Parkinson's, Sutherland said.
"We know there's a protein that misfolds in brain cells," Sutherland said. "Once the misfolding starts, it can't get out of the cell and forms clumps."
Imagine the human brain is a factory with an assembly line that makes boxes, Sutherland said. Somehow, in some brains, the box making machinery gets out of kilter and half made boxes start jamming the assembly line. Even though the assembly line is in working order, all of these half made boxes need to get taken off the line so it can operate again, Sutherland said.
"Tasigna has shown it can get rid of the boxes, get them out of the factory," Sutherland said.
It's so early in the testing process that only 12 patients with Parkinson's Disease have been tested with Tasigna, Sutherland said.
"The results are encouraging and now they will do a bigger trial," Sutherland said.
Care advice makes Neuro different
Parkinson's is a neurodegenerative disease that usually affects people older than age 65.
A high percentage of residents in Manatee and Sarasota counties are older than 65, putting Parkinson's strongly on the local radar, said Carisa Campanella, the
Neuro Challenge's South County Care adviser.
Care advisers like Campanella meet with Parkinson's families and can answer questions and make suggestions, all part of the free service Neuro Challenge provides, Campanella said.
"Usually, when we meet with someone for the first time, they come quite frightened," Campanella said. "They have been told they have this disease and they have no idea what to expect."
"They don't know the trajectory of the illness and many think they will die imminently," Campanella said. "They think its a death sentence. We alleviate their concerns."
Neuro Challenge gives patients a feeling of empowerment, Campanella said.
"We explain that this is a disease they have some control over," Campanella said. "We show them how the actions they take can help manage symptoms and slow down progression."
Taking medications on time, exercise and having a positive attitude all make a huge difference in how the illness presents itself, Campanella said.
"We have discovered that exercise and physical therapy are as important as medication," Campanella said.
The Neuro Challenge is able to offer free services because of community donors, including the Roberta Leventhal Sudakoff Foundation and also the Harry Sudakoff Foundation, Campanella said.
But the organization also receives donations from the patients themselves.
During the last Community Foundation of Sarasota giving challenge, Neuro Challenge asked patients to consider a $25 gift.
"They gave much more," Campanella said. "We raised $36,000 before matching funds. We felt we were truly appreciated."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.