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Parkinson's is a progressive neurological condition, affecting one person in every 500, 95% of which are over 40. It is caused by degeneration of more than 70% of the substantia nigra, which depletes the dopamine (the neurotransmitter involved in processing movement) levels in the brain. The characteristic symptoms are a tremor, rigidity and slowness of movement.
There are a number of different forms of parkinsonism; idiopathic Parkinson's diseas (the most common), vascular parkinsonism,drug-induced parkinsonism, dementia with Lewy bodies, inherited Parkinson's and juvenile Parkinson's.
Medications for Parkinsons try to restore the levels of dompamine by inhibiting its degradation or increasing its synthesis; Levodopa, Dopamine agonists, Apomorphine, Glutamate antagonist, Anticholinergics, COMT inhibitors and MAO-B inhibitors. Non-pharmaceutical options include occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, dietary advice and physiotherapy. Surgery is an option in severe cases, and involves deep brain stimulation and lesioning techniques.
Gene therapy could be used to prevent the death of nerve cells and also to promote the regeneration of cells. Stem cells could ultimately restore the supply of dopamine, but it will be at least 5 to 10 years before clinical trials using stem cell therapy will be considered.
Source; Adapted from Parkinson's UK