AGH neurosurgeon may have breakthrough on Parkinson's
By Tony LaRussa
Published: Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011
Dr. Peter Jannetta wasn't necessarily searching for a breakthrough in the treatment of Parkinson's disease as he prepared a patient for surgery to relieve the intense facial pain that had plagued her for more than a decade.
But the renowned Allegheny General Hospital neurosurgeon couldn't ignore what he saw four years ago as he reviewed the MRIs made of the 60-year-old woman's brain.
"As I looked at her scans, I noticed this artery pressing against an area known as the cerebral penduncle, where we know Parkinson's originates," Jannetta said Wednesday. "Then a light bulb went off. In addition to facial pain, the woman was suffering from Parkinson's.
"So I became curious about whether the artery just might be the cause of the disease."
With permission from the woman's family, Jannetta repositioned the offending artery while performing the surgical procedure he pioneered to relieve the facial pain.
Within days of surgery, the Parkinson's symptoms -- hand tremors, muscle rigidity, uncertain steps and immobile expression -- vanished. An estimated 1 million people in the United States suffer from Parkinson's disease.
"Up until now, we've only been able to treat the symptoms of Parkinson's, but not the source," said Jannetta, 79. "My instincts are that we were on the verge of something."
A subsequent study of MRIs made of 20 people suffering from Parkinson's and 20 healthy patients in a control group found that 78 percent of those with the disease had the same arterial conditions as the woman Jannetta treated.
"Although we clearly need to continue our research on a larger scale to substantiate this remarkable observation, the very idea that a manageable vascular abnormality in the brain may be a critical factor in disease onset and manifestation for some Parkinson's patients is an extremely exciting possibility," Jannetta said.
Detailed results of the study conducted by a team of physicians and neuroscientists led by Jannetta will be published today in the medical journal, Neurology International.
Dr. Daniel Truong, founder of the Parkinson's & Movement Disorder Institute in Long Beach, Calif., said while he thinks Jannetta's findings are "very interesting," he believes it is "too early" to say whether they will contribute to a cure.
"Additional research is certainly warranted," said Truong, who has been practicing neurology for more than 20 years. "But we need to take a cautious approach and not rush to any conclusions until the pathology has been proven."
Later this year, clinical trials to examine Jannetta's findings will be conducted at medical facilities around the country in the hopes of speeding up use of the procedure.
"It's not uncommon for it take as long as 20 years for new medical procedures to gain acceptance," Jannetta said. "My hope is that by conducting trials at multiple institutions we will be able to reduce that to two or three years."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.