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U of M, St. Jude Medical partner to tackle Parkinson’s disease, depression

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Inquiry.

University of Minnesota researchers and St. Jude Medical are collaborating to treat some of the most challenging and debilitating movement and neuropsychiatric disorders using deep brain stimulation (DBS), a treatment which uses electrical current to directly stimulate parts of the brain. The project is part of MnDRIVE (Minnesota’s Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy), a $36 million biennial investment by the state that aims to solve grand challenges in areas that align with Minnesota’s industries, including discoveries and treatments for brain conditions.

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research-and-clinical-trials

U of M researchers study “freezing of gait” in people with Parkinson’s disease

As part of April’s Parkinson’s Awareness Month, Health Talk is taking a closer look at some current University of Minnesota research projects that will help better understand the disease and what new research can do for future treatment and intervention.

Within the U of M’s Movement Disorders Laboratory, Colum MacKinnon, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Medical School’s Department of Neurology is examining “freezing of gait” – an issue seen in roughly half of all patients with Parkinson’s disease. MacKinnon and fellow researchers are hopeful new research could advance understanding of the issue.

The aforementioned “freezing of gait” is characterized by the episodic or spontaneous inability to start or maintain forward progress during walking.

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research-and-clinical-trials

Research Snapshot: U of M study finds NAC boosts brain and blood glutathione in patients with Parkinson’s and Gaucher’s diseases

In a new study recently published in Clinical Neuropharmacology, University of Minnesota researchers tried to determine if N-acetylcysteine (NAC), administered via an intravenous infusion, can alter peripheral blood and brain chemistry in patients with Parkinson’s and Gaucher disease as determined through blood assays and brain magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS).

University researchers Paul Tuite, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Neurology, James Cloyd, Pharm.D., professor in the Department of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology, College of Pharmacy, and Gulin Oz, Ph.D., associate professor of radiology at the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR) all partnered on the project.

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in-the-news

U of M named one of five clinical sites for crucial Parkinson’s disease research

The University of Minnesota announced earlier this month that it has been named as one of five clinical sites for BioFIND, a two-year study devoted to discovering biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease (PD).

The Minnesota Daily caught up with Paul Tuite, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Neurology and principle investigator of the study, to discuss the exciting endeavor…

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patient-care

25 years later, the Head of Neurology hasn’t lost the thrill that he gets from helping patients

Jerrold L. Vitek, M.D., Ph.D., professor and Head of the Department of Neurology at the University of Minnesota, is an internationally-renowned neurologist and movement disorder specialist. Although Dr.  Vitek has received many professional accolades for his achievements throughout his illustrious career, he still retains the same high level of interest in what led him to medicine in the first place: his love for helping patients.

As a movement disorders specialist, Dr. Vitek regularly diagnoses and treats patients with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological condition that causes tremors, rigidity, slowness of movement and postural changes which can lead to difficulties doing regular activities and even walking.  Some of his patients are affected by a disorder called dystonia, a movement disorder characterized by abnormal muscle contractions which cause involuntary twisting and repetitive movements.

Currently, there are no cures for either condition.  But, there are treatments that can make the conditions more manageable.

In search for the right treatment, Dr. Vitek evaluates the patient and identifies the severity of their symptoms to help determine the best treatment option.  Early on, patients with Parkinson’s disease are prescribed a series of medications to replace dopamine (L-dopa and dopamine agonists).  Most patients with Parkinson’s disease see improvements in their movement when taking these medications, but over a period of 5 to 7 years the medications typically have diminished effectiveness and increased side effects.

For dystonia, patients are typically treated with a combination of medications that block acetycholine or affect other neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain which help to minimize muscle spasms and relax the muscles.  Unfortunately, these medications aren’t always effective and may have too many side effects for patients with dystonia.

It’s at these points that Dr. Vitek will have a patient evaluated to determine if he/she is a suitable candidate for deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery.  If the patient is a suitable candidate and decides to go ahead with surgery, a DBS lead (insulated wire) is surgically inserted into a site deep within the brain known to control movement.  A few weeks later, the patient has an insulated wire extension and neurostimulator which is used to provide the power source and make DBS parameter adjustments, implanted in their body under the skin.  Electrical impulses are sent from the neurostimulator at selected DBS settings through the extension wire to the lead implanted in the brain to stimulate this region of the brain and change the pattern of electrical activity into a more normal state, thereby improving their symptoms.

DBS treatments for patients with Parkinson’s disease and dystonia can be very effective, providing some patients with long-lasting results and a sense of normalcy, despite their condition. Dr. Vitek sees the impact that treatment he provides can personally have on a patient.

“One of the many amazing things about working with these patients is that we can see them improve with DBS right before our eyes.” Vitek said. “For example, in patients with Parkinson’s disease, their tremors cease, their posture improves and they are often able to walk normally. It’s remarkable.”

By understanding more about where and how the brain is operating abnormally in each of these conditions as well as how DBS affects activity at the cellular level to improve specific symptoms, Dr. Vitek and his colleagues are better equipped to develop and test new DBS treatment strategies.  Ultimately, this research can translate into changes in clinical treatment options for affected patients, thereby improving patient symptoms, minimizing possible side effects, and improving quality of life.

“I’ve been working with patients for a long time, but I never lose the thrill that comes with helping people. For me, that feeling never gets old.”

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patient-care

Two studies aim to slow the onset of Parkinson’s disease

University of Minnesota researchers have recently published updates to two distinct efforts aimed at combatting Parkinson’s disease (PD) by tackling the basic science behind the disease.

The end goal of the two studies is to advance understanding of the mechanism’s behind the condition’s neurodegeneration in hopes of developing a drug that will provide effective therapy for PD patients, treating the underlying causes of the disease and other related disorders.

Parkinson’s disease is a disease of the central nervous system, and 60,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with the condition each year. The most obvious symptom of the disease is uncontrolled body movements when resting. Once the disease progresses further a patient can experience changes in their mood, dementia, problems with their senses and sleep difficulties.

Read more about these two distinct studies.

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