Sunday, August 09, 2009

Good News : Ginseng as a Parkinson’s cure

A PLANT used to brew a cup of soothing tea may be destined as a cure for a debilitating disease. The potential breakthrough is exciting news for those diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but even more so for patients in Nova Scotia, where the research is being carried out at a local university.

Halifax scientists have found using ginseng and a substance called sonic hedgehog might be keys to halting the progression of Parkinson’s. Dalhousie University researcher Harold Robertson has been part of studies showing that in mice, the plant can completely stop the action of a toxin that kills the brain cells affected by the disease.

Mr. Roberston says a post-doctoral fellow he was working with suggested using ginseng in mice. Results were so encouraging Mr. Robertson says it could be used in clinical trials in humans now.

While the results are promising, many questions remain as to why ginseng appears to have the effect it does in Parkinson’s cases. Those answers may be provided in research to be conducted here, thanks to more than $300,000 in grants announced last week by the Parkinson Society Maritime Region on behalf of Parkinson Society of Canada. Mr. Robertson and Anna-Marie Szczeniak were two of three Dal researchers and two clinical programs sharing the funding. His $44,597 grant will allow Mr. Robertson to probe the use of ginseng to fight Parkinson’s, in particular its effect on preventing inflammation associated with the killing of brain cells in patients.

Ms. Szczeniak was awarded a two-year, $80,000 fellowship that will allow her to study the role of the protein dubbed sonic hedgehog in cell division. Two groups working with Parkinson’s patients also received funding.

Parkinson’s drastically changes the lives of those who suffer from it; work being done right here in our backyard could yet drastically alter the course of the disease itself.

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