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VA Researching for You

Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a disorder of the central nervous system, characterized by the death of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. The disease causes a variety of "motor" symptoms (symptoms related to movement of the muscles), including rigidity, delayed movement, poor balance, and tremors. Non-motor symptoms of PD include sleep disturbances, urinary dysfunction, constipation, swallowing problems, mood disorders and cognitive deficits.

The exact cause of PD is unknown. Most researchers agree that the disease is caused by both genetic and environmental factors, and by interactions among these factors.

NIH estimates that the disease affects at least 500,000 Americans, mostly people over age 50. The average age of onset is about 60. VA estimates that 80,000 Veterans have PD. There is no cure for PD; however, many effective medications and treatment options are available.  Learn more.

VA’s Major Parkinson's disease Accomplishments:

• 2001:
Created Parkinson's Disease Research, Education, and Clinical Centers (PADRECCs), at six sites throughout the nation
• 2003:
Initiated a landmark clinical trial to assess the effectiveness of deep brain stimulators (DBS) for PD
• 2009:
Determined that DBS may hold significant benefits for those with PD who no longer respond well to medication alone
• 2014:
Found that walking is a safe and easily accessible way to improve PD symptoms
• 2015:
Developed a procedure to convert skin cells into dopamine neurons

Below is a news story that illustrates VA’s commitment to advancing technology and research initiatives to benefit our nation’s Veterans.

Drs. Cameron McIntyre (center) and Aasef Shaikh (right) study brain pathways through the HoloLens with neurology colleague Dr. Camilla Kilbane. The photo shows what is seen through the HoloLens glasses. (Photo provided by Cleveland FES Center) Drs. Cameron McIntyre (center) and Aasef Shaikh (right) study brain pathways through the HoloLens with neurology colleague Dr. Camilla Kilbane. The photo shows what is seen through the HoloLens glasses. (Photo provided by Cleveland FES Center)

Gaining insight into Parkinson's 

During his training as a neuroscientist, Dr. Aasef Shaikh studied eye movement and the vestibular system—the sensory system that contributes to balance and spatial orientation. Afterward, Shaikh wanted to apply what he learned to complex movement disorders. He decided to focus his research on Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that causes gait and balance impairment. An estimated 1 million people in the U.S. have Parkinson’s disease, with an additional 50,000 people diagnosed each year.

As an investigator at the Cleveland FES Center—a consortium of the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center and several partner organizations— Shaikh is now involved in three research projects related to Parkinson’s. In broad strokes, they examine how patients perceive the environment in which they walk, how they perceive their own motion through an environment, and how they navigate any given environment.  Read more..

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