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November 8, 2001


Experimental Study Using Magnets May Help Reduce Depression in Patients with Parkinson's Disease

Patients with Parkinson's disease, who suffer from severe depression in the course of the disease, may soon be able to lighten their mood through an experimental study at Emory University. Charles Epstein, M.D., associate professor of neurology, Emory University School of Medicine, and colleagues are exploring an alternative to drug therapy - an alternative that consists of stimulating the brain with electrically powered magnets. The process is known as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Researchers hope TMS can improve the moods of certain patients with Parkinson's disease and bring them out of their depressive states.

"Ten to fifteen percent of Parkinson's disease patients suffer from depression at any time," according to Dr. Epstein, who serves as principal investigator of the study. "Our goal is to help reduce or relieve this depression during a two-week study period."

The trial is the first of three new studies in the Emory University Center for Research on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in Neurodegenerative Diseases. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health recently awarded Emory a five-year grant for the Center and three individual research grants totaling $5.7 million.

In the TMS study, researchers place an electrically powered magnet over the left frontal region of the participant's head for 20 minutes twice a day. When stimulated, that portion of the brain is believed to improve mood in depressed patients. Participants undergo the therapy for two consecutive weeks. During the trial period, participants are hospitalized in the General Clinical Research Center in Emory University Hospital. "Because Parkinson's patients have difficulties with mobility, we feel their stay is necessary since therapy is required twice a day," says Dr. Epstein. "Also, participants are taken off some of their medications during part of the study. So we want to make sure they receive top supervision from our staff."

In similar magnetic stimulation studies, researchers have seen positive results in as little as several days to several weeks. After a series of treatments, patients have shown improvement in depression for as long as two months.

"The current option for Parkinson's patients who aren't responding to drug therapy is electroconvulsive shock therapy (EST), which is an invasive procedure," says Mahlon DeLong, M.D., co-principal investigator of the CAM Center study and professor and chairman of neurology, Emory University School of Medicine. "EST requires general anesthesia, brings on a seizure in the patient and may cause side effects, such as memory loss and other cognitive function impairments. Should transcranial magnetic stimulation prove effective in this trial, it could relieve depression in Parkinson's patients with little to no side effects."

Transcranial magnetic stimulation has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Its use now is in a study setting only. Participants are still being recruited for this alternative study. They must have Parkinson's disease, have such severe depression that electroconvulsive shock therapy is considered a treatment option, must be 40 to 90 years of age, must be willing to stay at the testing site for two weeks and must be willing to omit certain medications during part of the trial. Extensive testing will be performed before and after the two-week session. To participate in this study, call (404) 321- 6111, extension 7099.

Participants are also being recruited for two other studies in Emory's CAM Center. The studies involve the use of Valerian root to treat sleep disturbances in patients with Parkinson's disease and the effect of Chinese mind-body modalities of Tai Chi and Qi Gong on motor disabilities associated with Parkinson's disease.

Media Note: Emory's CAM Center in Neurodegenerative Diseases is not an information or referral center. For more information on the CAM Center, call Rebecca Portman, administrator for Emory's CAM Center in Neurodegenerative Diseases, at (404) 727-3251. The Center offers postdoctoral fellowships, as well as funding for pilot/feasibility studies, for those interested in CAM in neurodegenerative disease.


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