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Clinical trial may improve Parkinson's treatment

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On April 6, USA Today published an interview with legendary singer / songwriter Linda Ronstadt. The focus was on her battle with Parkinson's disease as much as it was with her forthcoming induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was clear what the illness has cost her.

"I can't really walk well. The muscles don't get the electronic signals from my brain, not that there's anything wrong with the muscles themselves," she said softly, lying comfortably on an oversize chair and ottoman. "It's just my brain."

Her battle with the illness is not as well known as that of Michael J. Fox. After he publicly revealed his diagnosis in 1998, he became a tireless advocate for Parkinson's patients. His foundation raises funds for research into treatments and an eventual cure.

Doctors at the University of Rochester and Northwestern University are about to begin a third-stage clinical trial investigating the effectiveness of the drug isradipine as a potential new treatment for Parkinson’s disease. The group has received a $23 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for the trial.

Isradipine is used to treat high blood pressure. The U of R research team notes that data suggests that current users of the drug have a lower than expected incidence of Parkinson's. The drug is a calcium channel blocker and some have speculated "overactive calcium channels may play a role in the death of the dopamine producing cells in the brain that is one of the hallmarks of Parkinson’s."

The phase two trial of isradipine was funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. The trial was to determine the drug's safety and appropriate dosage in Parkinson's treatment.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke notes that Parkinson's disease is both chronic and progressive. Successful treatment of the symptoms and slowing the progression of the illness varies by patient. In many cases, the effectiveness of drug treatments lessens after an initial “honeymoon” period of two to five years, the Rochester research team notes.

“We have good early stage treatments for the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and individuals who have problems with mobility and coordination can often get back to where they can function at a very high level,” said neurologist Kevin Biglan, M.D. “However, over the long term problems arise due to disease progression and people become less responsive to therapy. If you could slow the progression sufficiently enough, then with existing symptomatic treatments you could manage Parkinson’s symptoms quite well over a much longer period of time.”

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