UA Researchers Repurpose Ketamine For Parkinson's Patients

Published: Wednesday, July 18, 2018 - 3:21pm
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Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neuro-degenerative disease, affecting a high percentage of people over the age of 65. 

Researchers at the University of Arizona are hoping that by re-purposing an existing drug, they can help more Parkinson’s patients.

About five years ago, Dr. Torsten Falk was using ketamine to relieve pain in five patients with Parkinson’s disease. He said he and another doctor noticed the drug had an unexpected side effect.

“Infusions of these low doses of ketamine can be very effective in reducing treatment-resistant depression and that’s extensively studied," Falk said. "Depression and pain are both symptoms that also are problematic for Parkinson’s disease patients."

Falk said the disease is usually treated with levodopa, which works well for a few years, but can eventually cause involuntary movements. Ketamine can help reduce those movements.

“So [ketamine] actually has been used as an anesthetic for over 50 years in a much higher dose," he said. "But in the last 10 years it has been used to treat pain states quite well where people get an infusion and then have weeks to months long benefits from that.”  

Falk hopes to verify the use of ketamine for Parkinson's patients in an upcoming clinical trial.

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