3 Key Updates in Parkinson’s Disease

by Staff Writer
November 8, 2023 at 1:05 PM UTC

Three recent developments are encouraging for the future of Parkinson’s disease patients.

Clinical Relevance: There are some promising new developments in Parkinson’s

  • A new study has identified mitochondrial DNA damage as a potential root cause of Parkinson’s.
  • A new “neuroprosthetic” has enabled a patient who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 30 years ago to walk normally.
  • A glove modeled after the suspension mechanism found in horse-drawn carriages helps reduce hand tremors.

Nearly one million people in the US live with Parkinson’s disease. The condition is the second-most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s disease, and prevalence is expected to rise by at least 20 percent by 2030. Three recent developments are encouraging for the future of Parkinson’s patients:

  • A study that identifies mitochondrial DNA damage as a root cause of Parkinson’s
  • A new “neuroprosthetic” that allowed a patient to walk normally
  • A glove that safely and effectively reduces hand tremors

Potential Parkinson’s Cause Identified

In a study published in the open access journal, Molecular Psychiatry, University of Copenhagen researchers pinpointed oxidative stress and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) binding mistakes as key factors in the onset of sporadic Parkinson’s disease with dementia (sPDD). Specifically, they observed mtDNA deletions in the medial frontal gyrus of Parkinson’s patients, suggesting the potential of damaged mtDNA in driving disease mechanisms.

In further experiments that replicated sPDD in the brains of mice, the team observed impaired Interferon (IFN) signaling pathways that led to mtDNA damage and its release from neurons. Introducing the corrupted mtDNA induced Parkinson’s-like symptoms and neurodegeneration in formerly healthy mice, even in brain areas far removed from the injection site. This suggests that damaged mtDNA could spread Parkinson’s pathology across the brain, much like an infection.

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The researchers said they hoped their findings would lead to new therapeutic strategies. Targeting key proteins involved in recognizing and spreading damaged mtDNA could potentially identify ways to slow down or halt the progression of the disease.

Parkinson’s Patient Walks for Miles

People with advanced Parkinson’s disease often struggle with severe movement problems that current treatments can’t fix. French researchers moved one step closer – or actually many steps – to solving that problem.

A new Nature Medicine case study described a 62-year-old man diagnosed with Parkinson’s over 30 years ago who had struggled with serious walking difficulties and frequent falls that no other treatments help resolve. Scientists at Lausanne University Hospital implanted a neuroprosthesis into the man’s nervous system to mimic the natural patterns of the spinal cord. 

When used alongside deep brain stimulation and medications, the device improved his ability to walk and balance. He fell less and experienced fewer incidents where he would suddenly freeze up while walking, a problem commonly experienced by Parkinson’s patients. In fact, after several weeks of rehab, the patient reported that the device helped him walk normally. He now wears it for about eight hours daily, turning it off only to sleep or rest.

The technology has the potential to revolutionize the treatment of Parkinson’s by providing a non-invasive and effective way to get patients up and walking. Looking into the future, the team said they hoped to develop a library of electrode arrays and a neurostimulation platform to make the implant more widely available. They’re also working on a design that uses minimally invasive implants or deep brain stimulating electrodes to monitor neural activity from the brain or subthalamic nucleus to improve the effectiveness of the implant. 

Hand in Glove Solution

Imagine a person with Parkinson’s who travels to a doctor’s appointment by horse and carriage over a bumpy road. Magically, his symptoms improve. This observation, made by a doctor in the late 1800s, has led to a novel treatment for hand tremors. 

In essence, the new “CUE1” glove acts like the suspension system on the carriage. Just as the stability the system provides helps the passenger enjoy a smoother ride, the gloves help Parkinson’s patients regain control of their movements and perform everyday tasks with greater ease. The device uses targeted vibrations to counteract the abnormal brain signals that cause hand tremors, effectively smoothing out the “bumpy road” of Parkinson’s symptoms.

The scientific basis behind CUE1 is the concept of sensory feedback. When applied to the sternum, the glove’s vibrations provide sensory cues that help the brain to recalibrate its motor signals, effectively bypassing the abnormal neural activity responsible for Parkinson’s symptoms. And unlike the medication or surgery normally used to address tremors, the glove’s muscle stimulator employs a combination of resistance, frequency, and electric current that seems to carry no side effects or real risks. 

Thus far, about 50 people with Parkinson’s have used the gloves at the King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital in Thailand. The scientists who developed the technology hope to make them more widely available soon.

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