Early diagnosis and supportive therapies | Tomorrow Today - The Science Magazine | DW | 10.09.2012
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Tomorrow Today

Early diagnosis and supportive therapies

Professor Andrea Kühn researches movement disorders at Berlin's Charité hospital. She's working on techniques in deep brain stimulation that could be of great benefit to Parkinson's sufferers. She's in the studio to bring us up to date on her research.

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Dr. Kühn, how important is early diagnosis? Afterall, Parkinson's is a degenerative disease, and there's really no cure for it.

Andrea Kühn:
Well, that's the problem, that we have no cure for Parkinson's disease, so it is good to have an early diagnosis which usually then helps the people to have supportive therapies and early medical therapy, but we don't have any pills yet that will stop the disease progressing.

I've read a lot about Parkinson's and I actually know people who have it, and it's hard to figure out where it comes from. Would you say it's hereditary or is it acquired?

In most of the cases it's acquired and it's only five to ten percent hereditary cases of Parkinson's disease.

That's interesting. How effective in your opinion is the ultra-sound method?

It's a very good method to support our clinical diagnosis, but Parkinson's first of all is a clinical diagnosis.

I'd like to talk about cycle therapy. Why do these symptoms of Parkinson's disease seem to disappear when these people all of a sudden hop on a bicycle?

Well, I think it's a supportive therapy and dopamine is released during physical exercise and that can help at these moments that the patients can move better. And it's also helpful for other comorbidities of Parkinson's disease, when they are depressed that usually gets a bit better as well, but it's not that you can either heal or really help people just by cycling.

Well, sports is good for everything. But why cycling in particular? Are there other forms of exercise that would help, like swimming, for example?

Yes, indeed, and there has been a study conducted here in Berlin, in Beelitz, and it's called BIG therapy. So it's a physio-therapy where Parkinson's patients have performed large movements and they were trained to perform really large movements and that helped as well, so it's general exercise that helps.

You're a specialist in movement. I'd like to hear a little bit about your own work. Tell us something about that.

Yes, we are very much interested in another therapy in Parkinson's disease which is deep brain stimulation. That's a new surgical operation where electrodes are implanted deep in the brain, in the so-called basal ganglia and that helps to restore normal rhythms in the brain. We think it's a network disease and that the motor deficits can be helped very well in Parkinson's disease patients but also in other movement disorders like dystonia when continuous high-frequency stimulation is applied.

So, would you say that based on your research is there hope in the future for Parkinson's patients?

Yes, there is hope but also deep-brain stimulation can't stop the progression of the disease. There is no evidence for this. It helps to retain a very good motor state continuously over the day, but it doesn't stop the progression of the disease so far.

(Interview: Meggin Leigh)