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Researchers Try Early Surgical Intervention to Treat Parkinson's Symptoms

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are attempting to short circuit the progression of Parkinson's disease by implanting stimulation devices //into the brains of Parkinson's patients earlier on in the course of their disease.

'One of the driving theories behind this study is the possibility that if deep brain stimulation (DBS) therapy was applied early, it may change the progression of the disease, hopefully slowing its advance,' said David Charles, M.D., vice-chair of Neurology and director of the Vanderbilt Movement Disorders Clinic.

Charles says to date there is no current therapy that has been proven to definitely slow the progression of Parkinson's disease. Vanderbilt's Phase 1 clinical trial — the first of its kind in the world — was years in development and just recently received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to begin.

Parkinson's disease is a chronic, debilitating neuromuscular disease caused by the brain's inability to produce a sufficient amount of the chemical dopamine, which in turn causes nerve cell death leading to impaired function of the body's muscles and movement.

Key symptoms of Parkinson's are tremor (shaking), difficulty with balance, slowness of movement, and rigidity. Other symptoms can include stiff facial expression, shuffling walk, muffled speech and depression.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates there are as many as 500,000 U.S. citizens with Parkinson's disease, and others, such as the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, say it is more prevalent and may affect as many as 1 million Americans. Estimates are as many as 50,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

“The theory that applying this therapy early in the course of Parkinson's is that we may see a difference,” Charles said.

Vanderbilt researchers hope that by providing a treatment now only offered in late-stage Parkinson's, they can slow the disease's typical prog
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