Drug may slow advance of Parkinson’s disease

Q: My 80-year-old father has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and my mother is determined to take care of him in their home for as long as she can. His symptoms are not severe, but I’m told there’s no way to stop the progression of the disease. I can’t believe there hasn’t been a medical breakthrough for Parkinson’s as there has been for some forms of cancer and heart disease. What’s the latest news?

A: Research has produced a reason for optimism. Treating Parkinson’s disease patients with the experimental drug GM1 ganglioside improved symptoms and slowed their progression during a 30-month trial, Thomas Jefferson University researchers report in a recent study published online in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences.

The drug may protect patients’ dopamine-producing neurons from dying and at least partially restore their function, thereby increasing levels of dopamine, the key neurochemical missing in the brain of Parkinson’s patients.

“The drugs currently available for Parkinson’s disease are designed to treat symptoms and to improve function, but at this time there is no drug that has been shown unequivocally to slow disease progression,” said Dr. Jay S. Schneider, Ph.D., director of the Parkinson’s disease research unit, professor in the department of pathology, anatomy and cell biology and the department of neurology at Jefferson.

“Our data suggest that GM1 ganglioside has the potential to have symptomatic and disease-modifying effects on Parkinson’s disease,” Dr. Schneider added. “If this is substantiated in a larger clinical study, GM1 could provide significant benefit for Parkinson’s disease patients.”

Dr. Schneider concluded by saying: “We’ve been working on this for a long time and have some good ideas on how to move this forward. I think it’s important to continue to develop this therapy.”

Ask your mother to consider what she and your father will do when the symptoms worsen. There is help for both your parents from the local Home Instead Senior Care office. A Home Instead CAREGiver could provide your mother respite and assist your father with tasks around the house as well.

Home Instead CAREGivers are screened, trained, bonded and insured. They can be hired for as little as three hours and up to 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide medication reminders, companionship, meal preparation, light housekeeping, errands and shopping.

For more information about Home Instead Senior Care, contact Joe DeLauter at 866-522-6533 or go to www.homeinstead.com. For information about the study, visit jefferson.edu.