More than one million Americans suffer from Parkinson's disease, a
progressive neurodegenerative disorder that causes debilitating loss of
motor function. NEPRC researchers have worked in collaboration with
colleagues from several Harvard-affiliated hospitals to improve
diagnosis and treatment of this devastating disease.
continues to pose significant diagnostic and therapeutic challenges.
Diagnosing the disease before the loss of motor control that signals
advanced degeneration is of vital importance and a focus of our
research. Using radio-labeled compounds that target key proteins
responsible for regulating brain dopamine levels, this research has
developed improved PET (positron emission tomography) and SPECT (single
photon emission computerized tomography) imaging techniques to visualize
neural changes before motor symptoms emerge.
Conventional treatment of
Parkinson's disease relies heavily on the dopamine precursor L-dopa,
which is rarely effective for long-term treatment. Using advanced
nonhuman primate models of Parkinson's disease that exhibit progressive
loss of dopaminergic function, NEPRC researchers have helped to develop
several new treatment strategies. These novel approaches include the use
of new pharmacotherapies to selectively target mild and severe
Parkinsonian symptoms, neuroprotective agents to halt disease
progression, and cellular replacement techniques to re-innervate
critical brain regions and restore normal function.