When Parkinson’s disease strikes, its effects appear slowly, usually causing muscle stiffness and tremors. But within months of the onset of the degenerative neurological disorder, the symptoms can include shaking and slowness of movement. About 70,000 Canadians, most of them elderly, suffer from Parkinson’s disease, and in late stages of the disease their weakened muscular control renders them more susceptible to infections. But new cause for optimism emerged last week, when Canadian and U.S. researchers announced the findings of a study showing that a drug called deprenyl
slows the progression of the disease in its early stages. “We are very excited,” said Dr. William Langston, director of the California Parkinson’s Foundation in San Jose, one of the 28 medical centres participating in the study.
Scientists involved in the trials said that preliminary results, which were published last week in The New England Journal of Medicine, were so striking that they released them before the study was completed. Researchers, including Dr. Anthony Lang, a neurologist at Toronto Western Hospital, concluded that deprenyl can delay the need for treatment of Parkinson’s most debilitating symptoms for at least a year. Deprenyl, which researchers hope will soon be licensed for general use in Canada, was developed during the 1960s in Hungary. Toronto financier Morton Shulman, 64, who suffers from Parkinson’s, in 1988 secured
sole rights to sell the drug in Canada.
At present, the drug that is most widely used to treat Parkinson’s disease is L-dopa, which helps to compensate for the destruction of brain cells that carry messages to the nervous system. L-dopa’s side effects include nausea and hallucinations. By contrast, deprenyl’s side effects, which can include insomnia and confusion, are milder. Although final trials, involving 800 patients in the United States and Canada, are more than a year away from completion, researchers said that the initial results were highly encouraging. Before deprenyl, said Langston, “there has never been clearcut evidence that any drug could alter the course of this disease.”
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