Isle researchers take
part in Parkinson’s study

Hawaii researchers are participating in a national program to try to find drugs that will slow or arrest the progress of Parkinson's disease.

Six patients are being recruited by each of 42 trial centers around the country for the first 18-month phase of the study, sponsored by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Dr. G. Webster Ross, staff neurologist at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Honolulu, is principal investigator for the Hawaii project.

Dr. Helen Petrovitch, associate professor in the University of Hawaii's geriatric program, is co-investigator.

Both are affiliated with the Pacific Health Research Institute and have participated in many studies on Parkinson's and other diseases with the Honolulu Heart Program.

They have two volunteers for the trial and are looking for four more.

The volunteers must be more than 30 years old, diagnosed with Parkinson's within the past five years and not taking any medicine, the doctors said.

Ross said two drugs will be tested: minocycline, an antibiotic used to treat various infections, like acne; and creatine, an over-the-counter food supplement used by bodybuilders to increase muscle bulk.

Neither one has been used to treat Parkinson's disease, a chronic neurological condition associated with aging. Symptoms include tremors, slowed movement, stiffness and problems with balance and walking or running.

Ross said the researchers are trying to take advantage of anti-inflammatory properties of minocycline.

"It seems inflammation has some role in progression of Parkinson's disease, and we hope minocycline may counteract some inflammation and slow progression of the disease."

Creatine is an antioxidant, which can be used to prevent cell death associated with Parkinson's, he said.

The physicians will see the patients six times in 18 months at Kuakini Medical Center. They will do a neurological exam looking for signs of the disease, and blood tests at the beginning and end of the study to look for changes in blood chemistry and blood counts.

The first phase of the study is to learn if the medications might be useful for a bigger study following the volunteers for a longer time, Petrovitch said.

"It's exciting, a lot of fun," she said. "The first person is doing well in the study."

Ross said about 1,500 people in Hawaii have Parkinson's, and about 150 to 200 additional cases are diagnosed every year. "It's much more common in the elderly," he said, affecting about 1 percent of people over age 65.

Costs to patients and families run about $25,000 a year for drugs and indirect expenses, he said.

"It comes out to be about $37.5 million a year that people in the state spend on Parkinson's disease, and that doesn't even really take into account the emotional impact that this has on patients and families, so it's pretty significant."

He said the good news is that there are medicines that help with the symptoms, but they do not halt the underlying disease process and over time the symptoms become worse, he said.

"They (patients) may develop infections, fall, have brain hemorrhages or broken bones."

The six volunteers will be divided into three groups of two.

One group will receive minocycline and a placebo instead of creatine; another will receive creatine and a placebo instead of minocycline; and the third group will receive a placebo instead of the two medications.

The patients will not know what they are taking, nor will the physicians, Ross said. If problems develop with a patient, the central coordinating center at the University of Rochester, N.Y., can identify what is being taken, he said.

Patients interested in participating are asked to call Frances Wakashige at 547-9891.


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