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Parkinsonís patch shows promise in study

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — A new Parkinson's disease patch is described by a researcher as an important treatment that could possibly add years of quality to the lives of patients.

"It's going to have a high impact," said Dr. Ray. L. Watts, chairman of the University of Alabama at Birmingham department of neurology and the principal investigator of the patch study.

Watts said it's one of the most important new treatments in the past five or 10 years.

A study on the patch was published Wednesday in the online edition of the journal Neurology.

The patch is being considered for approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and may be available in the United States as early as this summer, Watts told The Birmingham News for a story Thursday.

All patients will have to do is slap the patch on every morning. Now, they must take medications orally three times a day, Watts said. But the benefits may run much deeper than that, by helping to overcome some of the most devastating side effects of existing treatments, Watts said.

The patch is already being used in Europe, and it is being produced by Schwarz Pharma of Germany, a drug company that funded the U.S. study published Wednesday.

Watts said the patch uses the drug rotigotine — a so-called dopamine agonist.

Parkinson's disease, which affects about a million Americans, is caused by the death of neurons that produce dopamine, a chemical that carries signals between nerves. When dopamine is depleted to about 40 percent of its normal level, symptoms of Parkinson's appear — muscle failure marked by tremors, rigidity and imbalance.

Doctors hope the result of the patch will be a longer period of time when a dopamine agonist is effective. And then, when L-dopa is finally needed, that drug will be more effective and long-lasting, too, with fewer of the debilitating side effects.

At present, doctors can effectively treat Parkinson's patients for 10 to 15 years, Watts said. The patch could extend that time period, he said.

"If we can push that out by 10, 15, 20 years, by modifying the way we deliver these medicines, this becomes all the more important," he said. "We're going to have to see over the long term."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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