U.S. and Canadian researchers are looking for people with early symptoms of Parkinson's disease in the largest study ever of the degenerative brain disorder.
The $10-million study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, "is the first major approach to getting at a cure for the disease," said Dr. Ira Shoulson, a professor of neurology at the University of Rochester. The school, which announced the study earlier this month, is one of the country's leading centers for Parkinson's research.
The disease gradually disables a person by killing certain brain cells that control motor skills. About two-thirds of Parkinson's sufferers are over 60 years of age.
Twenty-three hospitals in 19 states and five hospitals in four Canadian provinces are to participate in the study. Many of the candidates for the study may not realize that they have the disease, Shoulson said. He said some of the early signs are mild shaking or tremor in the hands or feet, slowed or small handwriting, softness of speech and general slowness.
Dr. Carl Leventhal, director of the degenerative diseases at the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke, said the study does not offer hope of a cure for people with advanced Parkinson's. "But the real hope of the study is that we can keep people with very, very early symptoms from getting to the advanced conditions."
The study, scheduled to run four years, is to test the effectiveness of two drugs--deprenyl and tocopherol--in preventing the killing of certain brain cells.
Another, more spectacular, treatment for Parkinson's is being tested. It involves transplanting healthy dopamine-producing cells from the body's adrenal gland, located just above the kidney, in the brain.