Tech Blog: UA Researchers Repurpose Ketamine in Effort to Alleviate Parkinson’s Patients
In the United States alone, more than 1.5 million people suffer from Parkinson’s disease (PD), a debilitating disorder with no cure. Parkinson’s affects neurons in the substantia nigra portion of the brain and, as these neurons begin to die, they produce dopamine. As Parkinson’s progresses, dopamine production decreases over time, which results in a person’s inability to normally moderate their movements. Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include slow movements and tremors in the arms, hands, legs and face, rigidity in the limbs, and instability .
The cause of the disease is still unknown, and within the past decade, only five new drugs have been approved by the FDA to manage its symptoms. Since its development in the 1960’s, Levodopa has been the most effective means of treating the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Unfortunately, when used as a long-term therapy, Levodopa can cause dyskinesia, which results in involuntary body movements .
Levodopa-induced dyskinesia (LID) had always been a thought-provoking domain of research for Scott Sherman, M.D., Ph.D., and Torsten Falk, Ph.D., of the Department of Neurology at University of Arizona Health Sciences. After learning of the positive effects that ketamine was proven to have in chronic neuropathic pain and depression, Falk and Sherman recognized the opportunity to treat LID in both pre-clinical models of Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s patients via a “low-dose ketamine infusion.”
In describing his work with Sherman, Falk said, “We have repurposed an old drug from being a third-line anesthetic to a front-runner for treating Parkinson’s disease, and discovered a unique mechanism of action along the way.”
Throughout the course of their research, they discovered that a low-dose subanesthetic intravenous ketamine infusion treatment, which is already known to reduce treatment-resistant depression and chronic pain, is also beneficial in effectively reducing LID . The inventors shared that "the 'low-dose ketamine infusion' approach is being heralded as a revolutionary breakthrough treatment in mental health, and we are adding to the excitement by developing an equally-effective low-dose ketamine for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease."
Implementation of this low-dose ketamine infusion would help Parkinson’s patients to maintain higher doses of levodopa for longer periods of time, with the potential to improve their health and wellbeing.
"Ketamine, a drug with long-overlooked potential, produces a unique and profound effect on the brain’s electro-chemical oscillations. Now we have developed effective pre-clinical and clinical protocols in Parkinson Disease to capitalize on this unique pharmacological signature."
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 Parkinson's Disease Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2016, from http://www.pdf.org/about_pd
 National Parkinson Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2016, from http://www.parkinson.org/understanding-parkinsons/treatment/Medications-...
 Sherman, S. J., Estevez, M., Magill, A. B., & Falk, T. (2016, February 26). Case Reports Showing a Long-Term Effect of Subanesthetic Ketamine Infusion in Reducing L-DOPA-Induced Dyskinesias (Rep.). doi:10.1159/0004441278
 Torsten Falk, PhD | Department of Neurology. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2016, from http://neurology.arizona.edu/torsten-falk-phd
 Scott J Sherman, MD, PhD | Department of Neurology. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2016, from http://neurology.arizona.edu/scott-j-sherman-md-phd
Photo: Torsten Falk, PhD (left), is an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Arizona . Scott Sherman MD, PhD (right), is an associate professor of neurology at the University of Arizona, director of the Movement Disorders Center, medical director of the Arizona Chapter of American Parkinson’s Disease Association, and director of the Parkinson’s Disease Program of the HealthSouth Rehabilitation Institute of Tucson. Credit: Taylor Hudson/Tech Launch Arizona.