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More Brains! More Electrodes! More Money!

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A bit more than three years ago, a fresh-faced young rascal of a lad saw an advertisement on a web site looking for people to volunteer for brain surgery.

“Golly,” the young lad said. “I’ll have to discuss this with my wife, but JEEPERS! This seems like a good idea!”

So after talking the subject over with his wife, his mommy, his neurologist and others, this rapscallion of a boy traveled from DC to Nashville and signed up for a Phase I Clinical Trial of Deep Brain Stimulation for folks in the earlier stages of Parkinson’s disease.

After testing of the physical and neurological and psychiatric kind, the experts found our protagonist suitable for the study and he was invited to join. A total of 30 would become members of this exclusive club. Fifteen would be randomized to the surgical group, the other 15 would be randomized to the control group — meaning they would continue their regular therapy and be used to compare against those who had the surgery.

Well now, gentle reader, three years and more have gone by, and the medical wizards at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are sufficiently encouraged by the results that they are seeking permission to expand their study from the original 30 volunteers to a nationwide cohort of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people with Parkinson’s disease across the nation who meet the study criteria.

Now, as you have no doubt ascertained (because you’re SMART!), I am that fresh-faced scallywag mentioned at the head of this article. I had bilateral deep brain stimulation of the subthalamic nuclei in June 2007. And I have written a book about the subject called No Doorway Wide Enough. (The title comes from when I was a young medic in the Navy and wondered why some older folks had to “size up” a door before walking through it. I understand it now.) I also blog on a daily basis.

I have embarked on a serious effort to help raise money for the medical wizards at Vanderbilt to be able to expand their study to the aforementioned nationwide group. I have placed a “Donate” button on the front page of my blog for folks to kick in a buck or two, or five, or maybe even 10, to assist in the effort.

Why should you care?

Because, gentle reader of my words, if this is like any other year, 50,000 Americans will get the news that they have Parkinson’s disease. The same news Michael J. Fox got. The same news former NBA star Brian Grant got. The same news I got as a fresh-faced, dewy-eyed youth at age 45.

As you get older, you will want there to be better treatments for PD. And if this clinical trial bears fruit, DBS could be offered earlier in the progression of Parkinson’s disease, rather than later when most function has already been lost. See, the medical wizards think that doing DBS earlier, rather than later, may not only prevent or slow down further loss of muscle control, but it may even halt or (dare we hope) reverse the disease.

It’s not an “old guy’s disease” any more, gentle reader. If you’re in your late 30s or early 40s, and you notice a twitch, a cramp, you’re dropping things, you have trouble sleeping, you have trouble coming up with the right word to say — you may already have lost the 80 percent of the dopamine-producing neurons in your brain it takes before symptoms start showing up.

You should care, my friend. You’d better care, because it’s happening to more and more of us, and we’re younger and younger when it happens.

So, wanna do something about it?

I hope you do.

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