A grassroots effort by local people with Parkinson’s disease and their families, physicians and researchers has brought the first communitywide conference on Parkinson’s disease to Baton Rouge.
It’s hoped that the event, which is free and will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, will be the launching point for future Parkinson’s-centered research here, said Donald Ingram, a professor at Pennington and one of the event organizers.
The seed of the conference was planted, he said, when Carol Harrison, one of the founders of the local Movers and Shakers support group for those with Parkinson’s, approached Ingram in the fall of 2010, wondering if research for the disease could perhaps be undertaken at Pennington.
“I think it takes steps along the way to find a cure” and a conference like the one coming up is part of that, said Harrison, who is a research advocate for the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.
Harrison, who has Parkinson’s disease and has taken part in research trials, encourages others to participate in research.
“I’m taking medicine today to help me, and someone (else) went through a trial” to make that possible, she said.
Conference organizers hope to get a better idea of how many people in the greater Baton Rouge area have Parkinson’s disease and how many might be interested in participating in possible future research studies, said Ingram, who holds a doctorate in psychology and gerontology and who will be one of the event speakers.
“Then we could plan accordingly,” Ingram said. “We need to do some pilot studies” and if the results of those are promising, funding for further research could be sought, he said.
The first-time conference might also generate interest from philanthropic sources for research funding, Ingram said.
Ingram was encouraged that by early August more than 200 people had registered.
Parkinson’s disease, one of the most common disorders of the nervous system in the elderly, happens when brain cells that make dopamine, a chemical that helps control muscle movement, are slowly destroyed, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Symptoms may include difficulties with swallowing, movement and fine motor skills and stiff muscles and tremors.
Currently, there is no known cure; the goal of treatment is to control symptoms, according to the NIH.
Dr. David Standaert, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, will be speaking at the conference on new developments on the horizon in the treatment of Parkinson’s.
“We’ll see coming to market in the next year or two (improvements) in the delivery of treatment we already have,” said Standaert, who is director of the Center for Neurodegeneration and Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Alabama.
Different companies will be offering a new form of a medication that will be sustained-release in the future, as well as a pump system that will deliver medication directly into the stomach for those with advanced Parkinson’s, he said.
The University of Alabama has been involved in clinical trials of the latter, pump method, Standaert said.
“Longer term, we want something to stop the degeneration (of Parkinson’s) in the first place, to turn back the clock,” Standaert said.
Important studies are under way on gene therapy and also on a new medication that would “slow down Parkinson’s,” he said.
Local physician Dr. Gerald Calegan, a neurologist with The NeuroMedical Center and also a conference speaker, will discuss treatments for Parkinson’s disease, including the use of deep brain stimulation.
For patients who meet certain criteria, deep brain stimulation, a surgical procedure, is an option for the treatment of symptoms, Calegan said.
It delivers low-voltage, high-frequency electrical impulses through a tiny electrode in the brain, in a battery-operated system with an insulated wire and a battery pack that’s implanted under the skin, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Calegan said it’s a treatment option for patients for whom medications have stopped working well.
“It’s been around at least 10 years,” longer than people may realize, Calegan said of the treatment, which is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The Parkinson’s Conference — Research in Parkinson’s Disease: Moving Forward will open at 9 a.m. with exhibits, and the program will begin at 10 a.m., with question-and-answer times built in.
Speakers will include:
- Steve Kragthorpe, LSU quarterback coach, on “Living with Parkinson’s Disease,” 10:15 a.m. to 10:25 a.m.
- Dr. David Standaert, University of Alabama, “Current Research and Future Treatments in Parkinson’s Disease,” 10:25 a.m. to 11 a.m.
- Dr. Georgia Lea, Ochsner Health System, “Parkinsonism and Parkinson’s Disease,” 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
- Dr. Gerald Calegan, The NeuroMedical Center, “Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease and Deep Brain Stimulation,” 12:45 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.
- Dr. Benjamin Kidder, The NeuroMedical Center, “Non-Motor Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease,” 1:15 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.
- Catrine Tudor-Locke, Ph.D., Pennington Biomedical Research Center, “The Role of Walking for Parkinson’s Patients,” 2:15 p.m. to 2:25 p.m.
- Donald Ingram, Ph.D., Pennington Biomedical Research Center, “Nutritional Interventions for Parkinson’s Disease,” 2:25 p.m. to 2:35 p.m.
- Dr. Jolene Zheng, LSU AgCenter, “What a Worm Can Teach Us About Parkinson’s Disease,” 2:35 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.
The conference is free of charge. A lunch will be served. Those interested in attending are asked to register on the conference link at http://www.pbrc.edu.