He says, "Outside of my eye, I could see this small figure moving." The figure was headed for a steep flight stairs.
What could he do to help? Paul was sitting down. After more than a decade living with Parkinson's, getting up from a chair was a difficult and tedious task.
But not today.
Rose, his wife, says that Paul jumped from the chair to run to her grandson. Rose, his wife, said that Paul jumped up from the chair and ran to her grandson. "He just stood up as if there were nothing and ran to get Max."
Amazing. It's amazing.
Strick said, "It was an excellent example of what people refer to paradoxical Kinesia." It was a description for what we are currently studying.
Paradoxical Kinesia is a sudden ability for someone with Parkinson's disease to move fluidly and quickly, just like they used to before the disease affected a part of their brain that controls movement.
This phenomenon is a variation on the placebo effect. It is not induced by the belief in a sugar pill as medicine. Instead, it appears when there is stress or strong emotion.
Paul said it was his fear of his grandson falling down stairs. Strick learned about the incident via Rose's email.
The treatment that is "all in your head."
Strick believes that the placebo effect is deserving of more respect than it gets.
He says, "I love when people say that it's all in their head because your brain is inside your head." "These kinds of things have real biological underpinnings."
Strick assembled a team consisting of prominent scientists to discover the biological basis of paradoxical kinesia. They hope that what they discover will lead to new treatments of Parkinson's disease. This disease affects approximately 1 million Americans.
It involves multiple labs at the University of Pittsburgh as well as one at the University of California Santa Barbara. The Aligning Science Across Parkinson's Initiative grants $12 million to fund the project. It is being implemented by Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Strick's colleagues plan to concentrate on two brain circuits that control voluntary movement. Parkinson's disease can cause damage to one of these circuits, which can lead to tremors, freezing, poor balance, coordination, and other symptoms.
Strick states, "Our hypothesis is there's an intact circuit and this circuit isn’t affected by Parkinson's disease."
Strick's team believes that strong emotions, even positive ones, can turn on this circuit.
He says, "It's engaged through our sense of reward and the joy of doing some thing."
One patient was able to ride a bicycle and had a positive experience
Strick said that at least one Parkinson's patient enjoyed riding a bicycle.
Strick is fascinated at a video created by Dutch neurologists back in 2010.
The story begins with a man suffering from severe Parkinson's who struggles to walk down a hospital hallway. He is hunched over and shuffles his feet. His hands are shaking. It then shows him riding his bike effortlessly around the parking lot of the hospital.
Strick's University of Pittsburgh collaborators have seen the video, according to William Stauffer a neurobiologist who studies reward and emotion.
Stauffer describes, "What I find most amazing is that he rides the bike and then he comes back and he jumps off the bike. He freezes." "It's immediate. That's weird."
According to the team, this man felt like he was experiencing joy by riding his bike. The joy and all its benefits disappeared almost immediately after the man got off the bike.
Stauffer believes that this behavior is yet another evidence that Parkinson's patients still have a functioning movement circuit in their brains. However, it is only activated in certain circumstances.
Stauffer believes that it is possible to find the pathway that allows Parkinson's and then turn it on.
A drug that went wrong led to the birth of a monkey model
Parkinson's slowly disables or kills cells that produce dopamine. This chemical messenger is associated with pleasure, reward, and joy.
L-DOPA, a drug that can be used to replace dopamine, is also available. However, its effects tend to diminish over time. Higher doses may cause side effects such as involuntary movements. Deep brain stimulation may also be used to reduce symptoms like tremor. However, it is invasive and can pose risks.
Scientists have searched for new treatments by studying monkeys whose brains control movement in a similar way to human brains.
This research is possible due to something terrible that occurred in Northern California, according to Rob Turner. His lab at the University of Pittsburgh studies brain circuits that enable skillful movement.
People who had been using heroin in the 1980s began to show up at hospitals with Parkinson-like symptoms.
"One of the local neurologists, Bill Langston did the detective work. He discovered that somebody had made a batch synthetic opioids, and created a neurotoxin instead," Turner said.
This neurotoxin targets the same brain cells that are involved in Parkinson's. It is possible to replicate the symptoms of Parkinson's disease by using a little bit of toxin. Turner said that this discovery enabled scientists to discover a lot more about the brain damage caused by Parkinson's disease.
He says, "The other benefit of it is that we were able to create a monkey Parkinson's model very similar to the one we see in people."
Turner's lab will therefore use the monkey model in order to study the placebo effect. They will need to infuse enough joy in the monkeys to activate the brain circuit that restores normal movements.
They are still trying to figure out how to do it. Turner said that just the thought of getting a fruit-juice reward makes monkeys happy. What about the possibility of a truly special treat like a tropical smoothie?
Turner said that it was not just a small-sized tropic smoothie. "The monkey is going to get the yes, nice work! Kind of reward.
In this experiment, the monkey joy of eating a smoothie will serve as the placebo. It will, with luck, cause the monkey's brain switch on the circuit temporarily allowing normal movement.
However, because the monkey is experiencing this, scientists can monitor the brain of the animal in the laboratory.
Helen Schwerdt is a bioengineer who builds tools to measure brain activity. She plans to implant up to 100 sensors into each animal's brain long before they experience symptoms of Parkinson’s. The sensors will monitor levels dopamine, a chemical messenger that is missing in Parkinson's.
Schwerdt states, "This is the first opportunity that we can actually examine these dopamine signals"
If a monkey is anticipating getting a smoothie, its sensors will show a surge of dopamine signals from the brain circuit controlling movement.
It would confirm Strick’s hypothesis and open up a new avenue for Parkinson's treatment. It is hoped that electrical stimulation or drugs aimed at this target will allow the team to not only turn on the circuit that allows movement but also keep it going.
Parkinson's patients can be helped by dancing and boxing
It is still far away from any new treatment. Doctors and patients are exploring other options that could use the placebo effect to aid people with Parkinson's.
Dance classes help patients move faster and more smoothly. One reason could be that rhythmic activities help to synchronize brain cells involved with movement. These classes may also make people happy.
Paul, the Parkinson's patient, who moved so fast to save his grandchild from death, has discovered another type of exercise that seems beneficial.
Paul is punching Rich Mushinsky, the owner of the Fit 4 Boxing Club, in suburban Pittsburgh.
Mushinsky calls. Paul delivers the punch or combination associated to each number. He is fluid, quick, and happy.
One of the many gyms that offer Parkinson's-friendly classes is the boxing club.
Mushinsky says, "Everything a boxer does equals everything a Parkinson's patient lacks." A boxing workout can improve balance, coordination, speed, and other aspects.
These classes offer Parkinson's patients and their families a place to connect with others living with the disease.
Mushinsky states, "It's no cure, but it makes them feel better for a brief period of time." "And fighters will tell how it makes them feel."
Paul claims it makes him feel happier. He says it helps him move better. "You can move faster, almost like a cat."
It is possible that a cat feels joy.