New drug could mean more relief for patients

In an effort to help combat Parkinson’s disease, a USF clinical research physician is helping conduct a study on a new medication that could change the way doctors treat patients suffering from the disease.

A new drug, istradefylline, reduces side effects that come with treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

Robert Hauser, director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center at USF, discovered the drug and said the new medication is unlike any other used to treat Parkinson’s and may lead to new and better treatments.

People who have Parkinson’s disease begin to lose brain cells that produce a chemical called dopamine.

Hauser said dopamine affects the brain processes that control movement, emotional response and the ability to experience pleasure and pain. Due to the loss of dopamine, people with the disease develop symptoms such as slowness, stiffness and tremors.

Hauser said one of the current treatments for patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease is Sinemet. The medication causes the brain to create more dopamine and helps to reduce the symptoms experienced by patients with the disease.

However, after prolonged exposure to Sinemet, patients receive less of a benefit from the medication, Hauser said.

“Normally, Sinemet lasts from dose to dose, but after a while it will only last a few hours and the symptoms come back,” Hauser said.

In addition to the medication wearing off faster, patients also begin to develop a sensitivity to the medication that causes twisting and turning movements called dyskinesia, Hauser said.

“It creates a dilemma for us,” he said. “On the one hand, I’d like to give them more Sinemet to fight the slowness, stiffness and tremors, but now they develop a sensitivity to it where they get more twisting turning and then I want to lower the Sinemet to reduce the twisting and turning.”

In the study, istradefylline was shown to reduce the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease after the medication wore off by 1.7 hours a day and patients did not exhibit dyskinesia, Hauser said.

Hauser added that one of the reasons the new medication works so well is because it is not a dopamine-based medication, unlike all current medications used to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease.

“It’s rather exciting. It’s really opening a new chapter in Parkinson’s disease where we are trying to move beyond dopamine and beyond what we have been using for the last 40 years with all the problems we are very familiar with at this point,” Hauser said.

A patient participating in the study, David Bonthron, said he was delighted with the study. Bonthron, 73, who lives in Bradenton, has had Parkinson’s disease for 10 years and because of the disease, Bothron’s left leg began to drag, he had blurred speech and he also had trouble washing himself. After participating in the study, Bonthron said his condition improved immensely.

“People don’t even know I have Parkinson’s. I’m very mobile again and people see the difference in me. I’m even back to playing golf better than I did before,” Bonthron said.

In addition to Hauser, many other researchers nationwide also participated in the study including Jean Hubble of the Ohio State University Department of Neurology, Daniel Truong of the Parkinson’s and Movement Disorder Institute and the Istradefylline US-001 Study Group I.