YOUR HEALTH: An old drug to help Parkinson’s patients facing side effects

TUCSON, Arizona – Sometimes the drugs used to treat an illness can have bad side effects...

Parkinson's patients know that too well.   But researchers are turning to an old drug to lessen those bad effects.

Sharon Kha started taking levodopa for Parkinson's in 2005.   Now she has dyskinesia, uncontrollable movements of the body.

"It is so frustrating when you start having these large involuntary movements, because they're intrusive," she remembered.

Neuroscientist Torsten Falk's research indicates that the anesthetic ketamine eases dyskinesia in rodents and also in five Parkinson's patients who were already taking it for pain relief.

"In a way, it's almost like a reset button where you get a treatment and you have weeks to months-long benefit," explained Dr. Torsten Falk, Associate Professor of Neurology and Pharmacology at the University of Arizona.

Re-purposing ketamine for dyskinesia could get it to patients quicker.

It's already been safety tested at higher doses than Dr. Falk plans to test.

"If you start with something fresh and new drug, the problem can really be that it can be five to ten years of safety testing before you can really do a proper trial to look for efficacy," said Dr. Falk.

DON'T HESITATE TO REPORT SYMPTOMS:   A study from the University of South Florida determined early Parkinson's patients wait too long before seeking medical attention or start taking symptomatic medications before they're required, dramatically shrinking the pool of candidates for clinical trials.   Since the pace of the disease's progression varies among patients, the months following diagnosis are crucial to researchers attempting to find a cure.   Patients should seek assessment soon after noticing the onset of tremor or slow movement.   Physicians should also consider referring patients to clinical trials soon after diagnosis and delay prescribing symptomatic medication until it`s necessary.   If a person has symptoms resembling those of Parkinson's, he or she should contact the Parkinson's Foundation`s free Helpline at 1-800-473-4636.

Sharon says this is great news.

"It sounds like a wonderful treatment because these large involuntary movements are so irritating."

Dr. Falk hopes to start a phase one trial in the coming months.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.