Slowing the progression of Parkinson's at Univ. of Minnesota - KMSP-TV

Slowing the progression of Parkinson's with MRI and NAC treatment

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About 50,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease every year. There is no cure, so many people rely on treatments to help them live as normal of a life as possible.

But research is happening right in our backyard at the University of Minnesota, looking at using a drug to slow the progression of Parkinson's – and there's evidence it's working.

Hours spent inside of an MRI machine have become a dreaded part of Dena Marie Modica's life. But being a part of another research project is worth it if it means avoiding living with the final stages of Parkinson's.

"To see your future is kind of scary," Modica said. "Shuffling, drooling, rolling over in bed eating, buttoning your shirt. All those things I can do now, but I don't know at what point -- I hope its when I'm really old."

Modica was diagnosed 12 years ago at age 42. With no family history, it was a shock.

"That's an old persons disease," she said. "I was young. I thought it was wrong. I thought it was something different."

But it was confirmed at the university, and now she's here hoping this latest research project could slow down her progression.

Here's how it works: Parkinson's depletes an antioxidant in the brain called glutathione, so U of M researchers are now infusing a drug called N-Acetyl-Cystein (NAC) into the veins while patients are in the MRI machine. Then they monitor those antioxidant levels as more and more of the drug slowly flows into the brain.

So far, the results in all the Parkinson's patients look good.

"Ordinarily if you were to do this study in just a few individuals you would see inconsistent results, but in all the individuals we've studied to date we found a consistent rise in the antioxidant," said Dr. James Cloyd II, Pharm.D.

That rise in the antioxidant could slow down the progression of Parkinson's. Researchers next want to put the drug into pill form and see if they get the same promising results. This kind of research on campus is making the leader of the National Parkinson Foundation of Minnesota proud.

"We do research on national level to help prevent falls, but to have scientific ability to come up with treatment that is going to advance people's life and quality of life, its pretty amazing," said Paul Blom.

And after another treatment, Dena Modica just holds on to hope she's extending her life and helping others.

"I'm still young," she said. "I have hope it might happen and impact me, but if it doesn't -- if my sisters get it or my child gets it -- I would like to know I made a difference in making it better and improve the situation for them."

This research project is using a collaboration of doctors from three different areas at the university: one who specializes in Parkinson's, one who focuses on the drug that's used and one who analyzes how that drug impacts the brain.

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