New Treatment for Parkinson''s Disease Shows Dramatic Results in First Study

Jul 18, 2007

New Treatment for Parkinson''s Disease Shows Dramatic Results in First Study

Date: July 18, 2007

Title: New Treatment for Parkinson''s Disease Shows Dramatic Results in First Study

Health Topic: Neurology

Contact: Melissa Chefec, MCPR Public Relations, 203-968-6625 For Immediate Release


Neurosurgical Parkinson''s expert discusses gene implantation''s potential to help millions

Brooklyn, NY, July 2007 - A new study involving surgical implantation of genetic material directly into the brains of patients with Parkinson''s disease has shown significant results, providing hope for the more than half million patients in the U.S. suffering with the debilitating disorder.

"Parkinson''s disease is both a chronic and progressive neurological disease, affecting more patients than multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig''s disease combined," explains Dr. Martin Zonenshayn, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, Chief of the Division of Neurosurgery at New York Methodist Hospital, and a prominent NY-area expert in the surgical treatment of Parkinson''s disease. "While there are currently several medications and surgical procedures that can provide relief from the symptoms of Parkinson''s disease, this is the first example of gene therapy being used to treat a neurological condition in the human adult," Dr. Zonenshayn adds.

The new study, published in the June 23 edition of the Lancet , aimed to test the safety and tolerability of the procedure, which involved surgical implantation of billions of copies of a single gene into the brains of 12 Parkinson''s disease patients. None of the patients experienced any side effects following the single-injection procedures, and after one year of monitoring, all patients experienced some level of improvement in symptoms on the side of their bodies that correlated to the side of the brain that had been treated. (The other side of the brain was left untreated in each patient in order to establish a control.)

Gene therapy exposes new horizons for patients, physicians

Dr. Zonenshayn believes this new research - which was conducted at Weill Cornell Medical College and led by his colleague, Dr. Michael Kaplitt - holds promise for Parkinson''s patients on several fronts. "This type of treatment may provide an alternative to surgical deep-brain stimulation for certain patients," Dr. Zonenshayn points out. For instance, because deep-brain stimulation requires the implantation of a device in the brain, patients who are averse to the procedure, who cannot comply with the required frequent follow-up associated with deep-brain stimulation, or who are at elevated risk of infection from the implanted device may benefit from a surgical gene therapy approach, which leaves no permanent hardware in place.

"This therapy may also have potential for those patients whose medications or surgical procedures lose effectiveness over time, or whose symptoms worsen dramatically over a brief period," he continues. "Finally, gene therapy in general opens up a new world of possibilities where the brain is concerned," Dr. Zonenshayn notes. "As we find that genetic material can help regenerate certain processes in the brain, we are encouraged that this may help us to slow, halt, or possibly reverse the progression of Parkinson''s and other chronic and/or progressive neurological conditions."

Parkinson''s disease develops when the brain fails to make adequate amounts of certain chemicals that play a role in modulating gross and fine motor "messages" to the body. The absence of these chemicals is often due to premature death of the brain cells charged with generating them, and so gene therapy is aimed at increasing the amount of that specific neurotransmitter. In the Lancet study, researchers implanted genetic material into some of the cells involved in motor control deep within the brain which produce a neurochemical often missing in Parkinson''s patients that calms the circuitry of the brain. Without it, patients experience uncontrollable movements, stiffness and tremors.

"Though this study was quite small and its purpose was simply to determine the safety of the trans p lanted genetic material, its results suggest that - with more research and hard work - surgical gene implantation may become a viable and valuable tool in the fight against Parkinson''s disease," Dr. Zonenshayn concludes.

According to the Parkinson''s Disease Association:

  • Parkinson''s disease may actually affect more than one million Americans, if estimated misdiagnosed and undiagnosed cases are combined with the current 500,000 documented cases in the U.S.
  • Considering the total at an estimated one million cases, more people suffer from Parkinson''s disease than from MS, MD and Lou Gehrig''s disease combined.
  • Parkinson''s disease is the second-most prevalent chronic neurological disorder; only Alzheimer''s disease surpasses it in the number of patients afflicted.
  • The cause of Parkinson''s disease is unknown.
  • The cost of Parkinson''s disease in the U.S. - including medical and surgical treatments, social security payments, patients'' loss of income and other factors - is estimated at $25 billion each year.

Bio: Dr. Martin Zonenshayn

Dr. Martin Zonenshayn is a medical expert in the field of Neurosurgery related to the surgical treatment of Parkinson''s disease and tremors, brain tumors and minimally-invasive spine surgery. He is the Chief, Division of Neurosurgery at New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn NY and an Assistant Professor with the Department of Neurological Surgery at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. He is a member of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. Dr. Zonenshayn received his medical degree from New York University School of Medicine and completed his internship and residency at NY Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Medical College of Cornell University. He completed a Fellowship in Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery at the Hospital for Joint Disease/New York University School of Medicine.