Ketamine eases debilitating side effects of a Parkinson’s treatment drug

Levodopa is the best-known treatment for Parkinson’s, but it can cause some other debilitating side effects. Now, researchers at the University of Arizona are testing an old drug, in addition to levodopa to see if it brings relief.

Sharon Kha started taking levodopa for Parkinson’s in 2005. Now she has dyskinesia, uncontrollable movements of the body.

“It is so frustrating when you start having these large involuntary movements,” Kha said, “because they’re intrusive.”

Neuroscientist Torsten Falk’s research indicates that the anesthetic ketamine eases dyskinesia in rodents and also in five Parkinson’s patients who were already taking it for pain relief.

“In a way, it’s almost like a reset button where you get a treatment and you have weeks to months-long benefit,” Torsten Falk said, PhD, an associate professor of Neurology and Pharmacology at the University of Arizona.

Sharon Kha enjoys interacting with birds. But dyskinesia has become an impediment to her hobby. Photo via WINK News.
Sharon Kha enjoys interacting with birds. But dyskinesia has become an impediment to her hobby. Photo via WINK News.

Repurposing ketamine for dyskinesia could get it to patients quicker. It’s already been safety tested at higher doses than Falk plans to test.

“If you start with something fresh and new, the problem can really be that it can be five to 10 years of safety testing before you can really do a proper trial to look for efficacy,” Falk said.

Kha believes this is great news.

“It sounds like a wonderful treatment because these large involuntary movements are so irritating,” Kha said.

Falk hopes to start a phase one trial in the coming months.

Ketamine can raise blood pressure and cause feelings of dissociation in higher doses. Researchers expect the dosage needed to control dyskinesia will be much lower than that.

Reporter:Channing Frampton
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