Experimental treatment reduces Parkinson's symptoms

July 4, 2012 3:43:18 PM PDT
About 1 million people are living with Parkinson's disease in the U.S. and 69-year-old Bob Van Housen is one of them. He's always been active and has never been one to slow down, but Parkinson's has forced him to.

Now, Bob is part of a new study, trying a unique treatment for Parkinson's and he's taken to it - hook, line and sinker.

Twelve years ago, Bob was diagnosed with the disease and as it progressed his symptoms did too. Bob and his wife Carole even stopped traveling because of the disease. To relieve symptoms Bob would take a pill called Levadopa every few hours just to be able walk and talk.

"We would have a spike where I'd feel pretty good then all of a sudden I'd fall off that cliff, then I'd be not so good," Bob Van Housen said.

"Very suddenly, the medicine would stop handling the symptoms," Carole Van Housen said.

About a year ago Bob enrolled in a trial at Cleveland Clinic to test a new, more consistent way to deliver a gel form of the same medication he was already using.

"A tube is inserted in the stomach, but the tube ends in the small intestines where the medications, and also our food, nutrients are absorbed, anyways so the Levadopa liquid gel is pumped continuously from an outside source," Dr. Hubert Fernandez of the Cleveland clinic said.

Carole loads the pump with a new cartridge of gel every morning and it's not long before Bob can walk and even run. The pump supplies a more steady flow of medicine so he doesn't experience a rollercoaster of symptoms during the day.

"We can project better how I'm gonna feel and I'm gonna act and we can plan," Bob said.

Worn around his neck in a special harness, Bob affectionately calls the 3-and-a-half pound pump "thorn", as in a "thorn" in his side.

"Sometimes there's a hindrance just because the pump's in the way," Bob said.

"It isn't a miracle and it isn't that he has no symptoms but certainly, my goodness, I know our quality of life is better," Carole said.

The pump is not a cure for Parkinson's disease and doesn't stop the progression, but helps manage the symptoms in a more effective way. The Van Housens hope their participation in the trial will help others looking to be active again.

According to Dr. Fernandez the most common side effect is stomach pain. The pump is still considered experimental so it's not available for general use, but Dr. Fernandez expects it will be submitted to the FDA for approval in the near future.

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