Steve Cantlon considers himself one of the lucky ones. So far, Parkinson’s disease hasn’t stopped him from doing the woodwork that he loves. “I’m just a couple months away from my 12th year of having Parkinson’s disease, and I’m still doing quite well, as long as I stay on my medication regimen,” says Cantlon.
That requires Steve to take his medicines seven times a day. Like many Parkinson’s patients, over time, Steve’s medicine has become less effective.
That’s why Matthew During, MD, PhD, at Ohio State University Medical Center is working on a new approach. In the lab, he’s developed a fluid that is injected directly into a patient’s brain. “By injecting that drop of fluid which contains billions of viruses, it delivers a gene and that re-establishes some of the normal chemistry in the brain,” says During.
This is the first clinical trial to use gene therapy on advanced cases of Parkinson’s disease, and early results are encouraging. During says 12 patients have been injected with the genes initially, and while all of them got better, nearly half showed a surprising response. “We get a significant improvement where they are more mobile, more able to live independently and walk around. They don’t have the same rigidity and, of course, the tremors are improved,” says During.
Even more promising, one year after the injections, the majority of patients continue to improve – hinting that their brains may be trying to reverse the damage caused by the disease. The next step is a larger patient trial to study gene therapy results.
Parkinson’s affects both men and women, usually developing after age 65. Right now, about 1.5 million Americans live with the disease.