Parkinson's Disease starts when dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brain die. Now an experimental treatment goes right to the root of the problem to try and save those cells.
Terry Casteel is in the wine making business. But parkinson's disease - a movement disorder - is making it tough to meet the physical demands of the job. It's even reduced his ability to smell.
Terry says, "a winemaker who cannot smell is in big trouble. And I began to realize, oh maybe, about 8 years ago, I was having big trouble."
So he was anxious to take part in a study where doctors inject a drug into the brain to try and stop his Parkinson's and improve symptoms.
Terry says, "it might mean that I'd be able to go and do a lot of things that I previously did."
Researcher John Nutt says the study drug, called Cere-120 contains a gene that could potentially protect dopamine-producing cells from damage.
Dr. Nutt says, "the amount of dopamine that is lost in the brain of somebody with Parkinson's Disease may be 80, 90 - 95% may be gone. But if you look where the nerve cell bodies are, the loss isn't that great."
And that's the target area.
Surgeons drill a hole in the skull and inject the drug directly into the putamen - right where dopamine-producing nerve cells are located.
Dr. Nutt says, "they're still there, but they're not functioning normally, so it can bring them back to full function and improve the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease."
Terry doesn't know if he got the real study drug or a placebo. He's keeping a close eye on his symptoms.
Terry says, "if I could have this level of function for an indeterminate period of time, I would feel like I had a good quality of life."
And maybe he could once again savor his work.
Doctors are examining study participants for symptom changes and any improvements in quality of life.
Oregon Health and Science University is one of nine study sites.
The research is ongoing, but they're not accepting new patients.
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