National Parkinson’s Awareness Month Interview with Robert Edwards, M.D.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects roughly one in 100 people over the age of 60. With no biomarker or objective test to make a definitive diagnosis, PD has kept researchers searching for clues on how to treat, and hopefully prevent, the disease.

April is National Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, and so we sat down with Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives member Robert Edwards, M.D., who specializes in the treatment of PD at the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Clinic. Edwards is a professor of neurology and physiology at the University of California, San Francisco. His lab has received international recognition for demonstrating that vesicular monoamine transport protects against MPTP toxicity, suggesting an important mechanism that may also protect against Parkinson’s.

robertedwards

Robert Edwards, M.D.

Regular exercise is proven to have positive effects on gait speed, strength, balance, and overall quality of life for people with PD. Though studies are still limited, dance therapy is said to greatly improve quality of life for this group, even more so than typical exercise. Can you talk a little bit about this?

RE: I am not an expert in this area, but exercise has clear short-term effects on function and for those more severely affected, on quality of life—those earlier in the disease are doing pretty well in any case. Presumably, exercise helps by improving the function of the basal ganglia circuitry that controls movement, much as it would in normal individuals. Dance therapy focuses on balance and other aspects of motor function different from standard exercises, so might be expected to add something new. Continue reading

Unlocking the Diseases of the Brain

Guest blog by Carl Sherman

One evening last week, I met the mini-brain.

I was introduced to this intriguing concept by three scientists who know it intimately, at a presentation on “Unlocking Diseases of the Brain with Stem Cells,” at the headquarters of the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF).

Melissa J. Nirenberg, M.D., Ph.D., NYSCF’s chief medical officer, introduced the subject from the perspective of a neurologist with 20 years’ experience, primarily with patients with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.

“It was frustrating,” she said. While treatment can attenuate some symptoms for some patients, “we don’t have anything to offer them to halt or even slow disease progression.” The same goes for Alzheimer’s. “That’s why I’m here. At NYSCF, we’re focusing on treating the underlying disorders.”

Science Laboratory

Image: Shutterstock

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New Method Reaches Deep in the Brain Without Surgery

A team of neuroscientists and engineers are working to develop a new form of treatment for people who have Parkinson’s disease, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to a recent New York Times article, the available methods for treating these conditions currently involve the risks of surgery and can have limited ability with directing electrical pulses to the right areas of the brain.

Dana Alliance member Helen Mayberg, tells the Times:

They have this clever new way to deliver current[s] to a spot of interest deep in the brain and do it without invading the brain…If you didn’t have to actually open up somebody’s brain and put something in it, if it could do what we’re doing now just as well—sign me up.

So far the research has only been conducted in mice, but experts are hoping the technique will work for people, too. “This is something that many of us in the field have wished for for a long time,” says Alexander Rotenberg. Rotenberg is director of the neuromodulation program at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. The article goes on to explain the details of the non-invasive treatment:

The method, called temporal interference, involves beaming different electric frequencies, too high for neurons to respond to, from electrodes on the skull’s surface. The team found that where the currents intersected inside the brain, the frequencies interfered with each other, essentially canceling out all but the difference between them and leaving a low-frequency current that neurons in that location responded to.

For more information on the experimental study, read the full article here.

– Seimi Rurup

Dana News E-Blast: August

Here are some stories recently posted on www.dana.org:

The Holy Grail of Psychiatry

Photo credit: Shutterstock

by Charles B. Nemeroff, MD, PhD

In 2013, a group led by Helen Mayberg published a groundbreaking paper that sought an answer to one of the most discussed conundrums in psychiatry: Can specific patterns of brain activity indicate how a depressed person will respond to treatment? Our author examines the findings and their potential impact on treatment for a public health problem that affects millions of people worldwide. From Cerebrum, our online magazine of ideas.

Study of Alpha Synuclein ‘Strains’ Deepens Understanding of Parkinson’s and Related Diseases

Findings also hint that “synucleinopathies” may in rare cases be contagious.

ALS: A Mystery Almost Solved?

Scientists seem to be zeroing in on the once-elusive mechanisms of ALS, and are starting to design and test therapies that target those mechanisms. One of our series of Briefing Papers.

Clue to Brain Regeneration Discovered in Certain Lab Mice

Finding hints at future treatment strategy for traumatic brain injury, stroke, and Alzheimer’s.

Axons Help New Neurons Travel During Development

Recent research provides strong evidence that pollutants cause harms, and suggests underlying pathways and mechanisms.

stayingsharpbookStaying Sharp: Successful Aging and the Brain

When is memory loss a sign of dementia? What actions can be taken to help maintain brain health? Our new, free booklet gives answers to these and other memory-oriented questions in easy-to-understand language. (link is direct to PDF)

Focused Ultrasound: How Sound Can Heal Your Brain

Amanda Buch with focused ultrasound equipment.  Photo courtesy of Buch

Amanda Buch with focused ultrasound equipment. Photo courtesy of Buch

What do bubbles, sound waves, and Michael J. Fox have in common?

I found the answer during a presentation at the Columbia University Medical Center.  Amanda Buch, a Bridge to Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering and neuroscience at the university, revealed the common denominator in the Late Night Science talk, “Focused Ultrasound: How Sound Can Heal Your Brain.” Continue reading

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