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The ‘Parkinson’s Patch’

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

Many new and innovative approaches to treating Parkinson's disease are on the horizon, including the so-called 'Parkinson's patch.'

"It's a similar idea to a nicotine patch or a nitroglycerine patch that heart patients use," says Burton Scott, M.D., assistant clinical professor of neurology at the Movement Disorders Clinic at Duke University Medical Center. "It's a way to deliver a steady dose of Parkinson's medication, so that the level of that medication is relatively stable."

The Parkinson's patch is currently in the final stage of clinical trials and could be approved by the FDA within three years, Scott says. He adds that the device could greatly simplify the lives of many Parkinson's patients:

"They can replace many of the pills that they have to take, potentially, with a patch form that's placed on the body once a day and then taken off once a day."

There is no cure for Parkinson's, although there are currently medications that are very effective in treating its symptoms. These medications don't slow the progression of the disease, but do allow Parkinson's patients to function well for a long period of time, even decades.

Parkinson's disease is a progressive degenerative disease that affects more than 1 million Americans. The disease originates in the substantia nigra, an area deep in the brain that produces dopamine, a chemical that helps coordinate movement and muscle control.

In a Parkinson's patient, the cells that produce dopamine die off, leading to the gradual onset of tremors -- especially at rest -- often with stiffness and rigidity. Slowness of movement and difficulty with balance are also frequent symptoms.

The most common age for developing Parkinson's is in one's 50s, although the disease can strike anyone from their 30s to their 70s. Early-onset Parkinson's usually refers to the disease's appearance before age 40.

As Parkinson's disease progresses, the brain makes less and less dopamine and it becomes increasingly difficult for medications to replace the chemical. This means many patients need more and more medications on an increasingly complicated regimen, in order to maintain their normal level of functioning.

One of the chronic problems for people suffering from Parkinson's is ensuring that the levels of medication to treat their symptoms are consistent and uniform. When dosage levels fluctuate, the result can sometimes be ineffective treatment and negative side effects, Scott says.

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