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Program Spotlight: Rush Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center

For more than 40 years, research at Rush has contributed to more effective treatments for people with Parkinson’s worldwide.

Ajay Nehra, MD, is chairperson of the Department of Urology at Rush University Medical Center in ChicagoClinicians in the Rush Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center provide comprehensive care for people with Parkinson's disease. They are also dedicated researchers committed to uncovering novel ways to treat and slow the progression of Parkinson's disease.

For more than 40 years, their research has contributed to more effective treatments for people with Parkinson's worldwide. "Some of our patients who participated in clinical trials of new medications decades ago were the first people to get the treatments that are now the standard of care for Parkinson's disease," says Christopher Goetz, MD, director of the center.

The Time is Now

In the past 10 years, Parkinson's research has intensified, thanks to an increased awareness of the disease and more funding for research. According to Goetz, this is a pivotal time in Parkinson's research. In fact, researchers predict that current research efforts will lead to significant breakthroughs in treating and slowing the progression of the disease in the next decade.

As part of one of the largest movement disorder centers in the world, clinicians at Rush are heavily involved in research programs that cover the entire spectrum of Parkinson's disease, from early detection to state-of-the-art treatments.

Early Detection

A big push in Parkinson's research today is developing treatments to slow the progression of the disease. One way that researchers at Rush hope to do this is by studying groups of people with early signs of Parkinson's that precede characteristic movement symptoms, like tremor. By studying these people, researchers are working to develop treatments that target different parts of the brain in an effort to slow, or even halt, the progression of the disease.

"We have been trying to develop effective interventions that can be used early and hopefully prevent people from developing movement problems," says Kathleen Shannon, MD, a neurologist at Rush. "We are getting to a point where this is an achievable goal."

Gene Therapy

Over the past few years, experimental gene therapy for Parkinson's has been making headlines. While research endeavors at Rush and other institutions have found that it is not a miracle cure, gene therapy could be used in the future to slow, halt or reverse the progression of the disease.

"With gene therapy we are figuring out how to change the diseased cells and turn them into healthy cells," says Goetz. "We can do it in the lab, but we have not been successful yet in patients."

Although a recent trial testing one specific gene did not help improve symptoms in patients, the study will likely have an important impact on the future of gene therapy.

"The study was technically impeccable, so we now know how to deliver gene therapy safely," says Goetz. "That is progress, and it opens up a lot of options. Now we need to find a new gene — and there are hundreds of genes. We are so close."

Clinicians at Rush combine their leading-edge research with the most advanced treatments, including medications, physical therapy and surgical interventions to help people with Parkinson's disease continue to live full lives.

"Our patients are the core of our program at Rush; everything we do and any new research we conduct always centers back to the patients," says Goetz. "They are the ones who benefit from the discoveries we make."

Rush Physician July/August 2013

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Rush Physician July/August 2013
Program Spotlight: Rush Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center

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