Drug slows progression of Parkinson's, says studyParkinson's sufferers have been offered new hope after research showed a
drug which appears to slow the progression of the brain disease for the first time.
By Kate Devlin,
Currently patients are offered drugs to target only the symptoms of the debilitating condition, which can include shakes, memory loss, hallucinations and stiffening of muscles.
But giving them the drug rasagiline, also known as Azilect, at an early stage appeared to slow the development of the disease, scientists say.
The study suggests that patients who took the medication soon after diagnosis had a less aggressive form of the condition than those who did not take it until later.
Professor David Burn of Newcastle University, one of the authors of the study, which involved more than 1,000 patients, described the preliminary results as "exciting".
"They show that early treatment can result in a slowing of clinical progression," he said.
More than 120,000 people in Britain suffer from the condition, which has also struck Michael J Fox, the actor, and the boxer Muhammad Ali.
Symptoms usually appear slowly but speed up with time.
The results of the new trial, unveiled at the European Federation of Neurological Societies Congress in Madrid, suggest that giving more patients the drug within months of diagnosis could help delay the onset of more severe symptoms.
"This may offer real benefit to patients," said Prof Burn.
Dr Roger Barker, a consultant neurologist at the Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair, who also took part in the study, said that it established "a need for prompt treatment of newly diagnosed patients".
The drug is already approved by the Government's drugs watchdog, the National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), to treat symptoms of the disease.
However, many GPs are reluctant to prescribe drugs to Parkinson's patients too early because the effects of some medications can wear off or cause serious side effects in the long term.
The results of the study show that patients, from across the UK, Europe and America, who took the drug within four months of being diagnosed had a permanent advantage over patients who were given the treatment six months later.
The researchers believe that the drug could work by creating a long lasting protection for brain cells. However, more time is needed to determine whether the effects are permanent, as many patients have been taking part in the study for just 18 months.
Experts warn that it could take 10 or 15 years before the long term benefits are known.
Prof Warren Olanow of New York's Mount Sinai Hospital said: "This isn't the end of the story. But it could be the beginning of something very interesting."
Dr Kieran Breen, director of research for the Parkinson's Disease Society, said: "This study is important in that it underlines that treatment should be given earlier to Parkinson's patients.
"However, while what we do know is that over a small time period there is an advantage, we really don't know if this will be maintained over the long term."
Around 10,000 cases of the disease are diagnosed in Britain every year.
Most sufferers are in their 60s and early 70s when they are diagnosed although some develop the condition in their 40s.
There is also a younger version of the disease, called juvenile Parkinson’s, which is diagnosed in young people before the age of 18, although this is extremely rare.
Agilect: US approval May 2006
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