New drug lifeline for Parkinson's victims

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The Independent Online
TENS OF thousands of people with Parkinson's disease stand to benefit from a new drug which has been found to result in fewer side-effects than existing treatments.

The largest, long-term study of Parkinson's disease - which affects about 120,000 people in Britain - found that the new drug was 15 times less likely to result in shaking and involuntary limb movements, which can cripple patients.

Doctors are hailing the discovery as a breakthrough in the treatment of the degenerative neurological disorder, which is expected to increase in frequency with an ageing population. The new drug, called ropinirole, should now be the preferred treatment for Parkinson's disease according to Dr Carl Clarke, reader in clinical neurology at Birmingham University and a member of the scientific team who led the five-year trial. "This is the first, well-concluded, long-term study into Parkinson's which has shown that ropinirole can delay symptoms and treat the patient," Dr Clarke said. The trial compared ropinirole with levodopa, the existing drug used to treat Parkinson's, and found that patients experienced a marked decrease in the risk of developing dyskinesias - uncontrollable movements of the limbs.

Parkinson's disease occurs when certain brain cells which produce a vital chemical messenger, called dopamine, are lost. The disorder affects all activities of a person's life, including talking, walking, swallowing and writing.

About 10,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson's each year, mostly in those over 60 but with one in 20 new patients being diagnosed when they are under 40. Levodopa works by replacing dopamine in the brain but it gradually produces side-effects such as confusion, hallucinations, and fluctuations in the ability to move. Ropinirole works by stimulating the parts of the brain that make dopamine, which appears from the trial to produce far fewer side-effects.

Mary Baker, chief executive of the Parkinson's Disease Society, said the trial will "radically change the way Parkinson's is treated in the UK. There now needs to be a rethink of initial drug treatment, which has traditionally favoured the use of levodopa."