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The International Neuroscience Network Foundation
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Duke University Medical Center’s INNF Funded Research Sparks Hope for Parkinson’s Disease Treatment

Durham, NC - In the March 20, 2009 edition of the journal Science, researchers in the laboratory of Miguel Nicolelis, Ph.D., M.D., reported a novel spinal stimulation method, the first potential therapy to target the spinal cord instead of the brain for Parkinson’s disease treatment. Dr. Romulo Fuentes and colleagues developed a prosthetic device that applies electrical stimulation to the dorsal column in the spinal cord, which is a main sensory pathway carrying tactile information from the body to the brain. The device was attached to the surface of the spinal cord in mice and rats with depleted levels of the chemical dopamine – mimicking the biologic characteristics of someone with Parkinson’s disease along with the impaired motor skills seen in advanced stages of the disease. When the device was turned on, the dopamine-depleted animals’ slow, stiff movements were replaced with the active behaviors of healthy mice and rats. Improved movement was typically observed within 3.35 seconds after stimulation. Nicolelis, the Anne W. Deane Professor of Neuroscience at Duke explained “… it is easy to use, significantly less invasive than other alternatives to medication, such as deep brain stimulation, and has the potential for widespread use in conjunction with medications typically used to treat Parkinson’s disease.” The device works as an interface with the brain to allow almost immediate and dramatic recovery of movement according to Per Petersson, co-author of the study. “If we can demonstrate that the device is safe and effective over the long term in primates and then humans, virtually every patient could be eligible for this treatment in the near future,” Nicolelis said. Funding for this research was provided by grants from the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), International Neuroscience Network Foundation (INNF) and the Anne W. Deane Endowed Chair.
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