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New Parkinson's Treatment Shows Promise in Animals
Date:3/19/2009

Stimulation of spinal cord less invasive than deep brain stimulation, researchers say

THURSDAY, March 19 (HealthDay News) -- Rodents with Parkinson's-like symptoms walked and moved normally again after their spinal cords were stimulated with high frequency electrical currents, a new study shows.

Researchers said the technique, called dorsal column stimulation, has the potential to be an important new weapon in the arsenal against Parkinson's disease. Spinal cord stimulation could one day replace deep brain stimulation, an effective but highly invasive treatment of last resort for Parkinson's patients.

Researchers plan to begin testing the new technique on primates in a few months and, if successful, begin human testing in about a year.

"If this technology could work in humans, it would provide a completely new option for treating Parkinson's disease," said senior study investigator Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, a professor of neuroscience at Duke University Medical Center, in Durham, N.C.

The study appears in the March 20 issue of Science.

About 1.5 million Americans have Parkinson's disease, and another 60,000 are diagnosed each year, according to the National Parkinson Foundation. Parkinson's, which causes tremors, rigidity, slowed movements and a shuffling gait, is marked by a dying off of brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Because Parkinson's is degenerative, symptoms can eventually include difficulty swallowing, smiling and speaking, as well as dementia.

During early stages of the disease, symptoms can usually be controlled using the medication levodopa, When combined with another drug, levodopa is converted into dopamine in the brain.

But as the disease progresses, the benefits from levodopa can diminish.

Patients with Parkinson's who are no longer responding well to medications sometimes turn to deep brain stimulation, in which e
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