Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

DaTscan, new drug help with early diagnosis of Parkinson's disease

For decades physicians have had to rely largely on a keen eye and experience to diagnose Parkinson's disease.

Now the pairing of a new drug and a high-tech nuclear brain scan is offering long-awaited help in recognizing the progressive movement disorder, which has neither a specific diagnostic test nor a cure.

Any patient who has sought an elusive diagnosis knows the value of being certain of what you're dealing with. Plus, researchers hope that by finding Parkinson's earlier, it may be possible someday to halt the disease's progress.

The telltale signs of Parkinson's — among them trembling of the head, hands, legs or face, rigid posture, lack of facial expression — can range from severe to very subtle, especially at the early stages. Adding to the difficulty, other neurological conditions can be mistaken for Parkinson's, but require different treatments. Some prescription medications have side effects that can cause Parkinson's-like symptoms, further complicating a diagnosis.

Research has shown that about 10 percent of patients suspected of having Parkinson's do not have it. That figure may be 15 or even 25 percent in practices that don't specialize in the condition, said Dr. Robert Hauser, director of the USF Health's Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center.

End result: The proper diagnosis and treatment can be delayed for years. The delay is frustrating at best, and dangerous at worst.

In January the Food and Drug Administration approved a procedure called DaTscan from GE Healthcare, and it now is becoming more widely available. The procedure, which has been done in Europe for the past decade, uses an injected drug, Ioflupane I 123, and a type of brain imaging known as single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) to look for dopamine, a brain chemical that Parkinson's patients lack.

As the disease progresses, dopamine levels decline, and that's what the scan shows.

"A normal image looks like you have two fat commas in the brain," said Hauser, speaking of the part of the brain where dopamine is concentrated.

"But because you lose dopamine neurons from the back forward, what happens is one of those commas looks more like a period," he explained.

Dr. Saleem Khamisani, a neurologist at St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg who specializes in Parkinson's, recently started offering the test. "DaTscan will help us make the diagnosis early and differentiate some other diseases that can be confused with Parkinson's," he said.

Early diagnosis is important because there's evidence that at least one Parkinson's medication, Azilect, may not only reduce symptoms but may also slow progression of the disease.

"Normally when you have (obvious) symptoms, you have already lost 80 to 90 percent of cells that produce dopamine in the brain," Khamisani said. "You want to diagnose it at 30 percent and treat them earlier."

By the time Vicky Greer had a DaTscan at Tampa General Hospital in December as part of a clinical trial, her dopamine level was 60 percent depleted.

It was just last summer that the St. Petersburg teacher noticed she was extremely fatigued, had trouble walking and was developing a slight tremor in her right hand. Her family doctor dismissed the notion of Parkinson's, but when her symptoms worsened in the fall, she sought out Hauser.

"He looked at me and watched me walk and said he was about 98 percent sure that it was Parkinson's," recalls Greer.

The scan confirmed the diagnosis. "It was hard," said Greer, a reading teacher at Tomlinson Adult Learning Center.

"I'm an active, young 59-year-old. It has really impacted my lifestyle."

Grim as the news was, Greer said it was a relief to have an explanation for her symptoms.

"It was better to know what was going on,'' she said. "To have a diagnosis."

Irene Maher can be contacted at imaher@sptimes.com.

Clinical trial

USF is recruiting participants for a study, sponsored by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, on diagnosing and tracking progression of Parkinson's. Newly diagnosed patients who are not yet taking Parkinson's medications, and healthy adults without a parent, child or sibling with Parkinson's, will be followed for five years. Contact study coordinator Holly Delgado at (813) 844-4453.

More on DaTscan

According to GE Healthcare, the cost of the drug used in DaTscan is $1,800; physician, hospital and SPECT scan fees are extra. The test is covered by Medicare Part B and Medicaid, and GE is working with private insurance plans. For more information on DaTscan, including Florida sites that offer it, go to us.datscan.com.

60

Average age at onset

As many as

60,000

diagnosed each year in America

1 million

Americans living with Parkinson's

DaTscan, new drug help with early diagnosis of Parkinson's disease 08/03/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 6:19pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Why are so few Tampa Bay houses for sale? They're being rented

    Real Estate

    Oreste Mesa Jr. owns a modest 40-year-old house in West Tampa just off MacDill Avenue. It's an area where many homeowners are hearing the siren song of builders and cashing out while the market is strong.

    Attorney David Eaton poses in front of his rental home at 899 72nd Ave. North. in St. Petersburg. He's among a growing number of property owners who see more value in renting out unused homes than selling them. 
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  2. In a word, Hernando school leaders say, first day was 'smooth'

    K12

    Over and over on Monday, school district leaders used the same word to describe the unfolding of the first day of school in Hernando County.

    "Smooth."

    Third-graders Teagan Ferguson, left, and Brianna DeLaine deliver attendance figures to the office at J.D. Floyd Elementary School on Monday. Superintendent Lori Romano and other district administrators toured a handful of schools and classrooms throughout the day,
  3. Looking Back: Diana, America's Favorite Princess

    Celebrities

    The Washington Post, in her obituary, called her "the most photographed woman in the world." She was loved in England for saying, after her divorce from Prince Charles, "I'd like to be a queen of people's hearts." Americans loved her for her work with charitable causes supporting victims of AIDS and landmines. Aug. 31 …

    Prince Charles and Princess Diana on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on their wedding day.

(AP Photo)
  4. Rays morning after: 5 mistakes that led to loss to Blue Jays

    Blogs

    We've already documented elsewhere what the Rays didn't do, how they failed to take advantage of a prime opportunity to win Wednesday's game, getting just one run after loading the bases in the seventh with one out and three of …

    Jake Faria make too many mistakes, the failure to execute costing him repeatedly.
  5. Unborn baby dies, two critically injured in Largo crash

    Accidents

    LARGO — Two people were critically injured and an unborn baby was killed in a crash that shut down an intersection on Ulmerton Road late Wednesday night, the Florida Highway Patrol said.