Top 10 Parkinson’s stories of 2023

Of most interest last year were news on risk factors, potential treatments

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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Throughout 2023, we at Parkinson’s News Today brought you coverage of the latest scientific advances and developments in treatments for Parkinson’s disease.

Here we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 most-read stories published this past year. We look forward to continuing to share more developments with you in 2024.

10. Treatment with SPN-830 pump reduces off time in clinical trial

Results from an open-label Phase 3 clinical trial indicated that treatment with SPN-830, an infusion pump that delivers continuous apomorphine, led to a reduction in off time (that is, time when symptoms aren’t well-controlled despite treatment). The study, called INFUS-ON (NCT02339064), enrolled 99 people with Parkinson’s who, on average, were experiencing more than six hours of off time per day. By the end of the 12-week trial, average daily off time was reduced by more than three hours per day. Data from the study helped support an application seeking approval of SPN-830 in the U.S.; a decision is expected in April.

9. Drinking coffee linked to smaller size of Parkinson’s-relevant brain region

Through an analysis of imaging data, researchers found that people who drink more coffee per day tend to have lower volume of the striatum, a part of the brain that is severely impacted by Parkinson’s. This effect was seen both in Parkinson’s patients and in people without the disease, though analyses did not find significant differences in striatum volume among Parkinson’s patients who did or did not drink coffee at all. Some research has suggested that drinking coffee may decrease the risk of Parkinson’s, but the link between coffee and Parkinson’s remains incompletely understood.

8. Wearable device to control Parkinson’s tremors launched

In June, Cala Health launched the Cala kIQ System — a device that’s worn like a wristwatch and can help to relieve tremor in Parkinson’s patients. It works by delivering electrical stimulation to nerves in the arm, and is cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help relieve action tremor, or tremor during an active movement, in people with Parkinson’s or essential tremor. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health systems agreed to provide the device at no cost to VA beneficiaries who are prescribed it by their provider.

7. Red light therapy helmet relieves Parkinson’s symptoms in early clinical trial

Treatment with a red/infrared light therapy helmet called Symbyx Neuro led to improvements in facial expression, upper limb function, walking ability, and tremor for people with Parkinson’s in a small trial. The study enrolled 40 patients who were given the light therapy treatment, or a sham treatment, for 12 weeks, or about three months. Results announced by the therapy’s developer Symbyx Biome suggested that the light therapy outperformed the sham on multiple measures.

6. Parkinson’s patients may have more pro-inflammatory gut bacteria

An analysis of data from more than 2,000 people with and without Parkinson’s suggested that patients with the progressive disease tend to have higher levels of certain pro-inflammatory bacteria in their digestive tracts. Parkinson’s patients also had higher expression of some genes related to inflammation. Machine learning models based on the presence of these pro-inflammatory signals were able to identify Parkinson’s patients with high accuracy, and overall, the findings add to a growing body of research that abnormal inflammation may be a driving force in the neurodegenerative disorder.

5. Trial continued to test psychoactive compound psilocybin in Parkinson’s

The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) continued to run a pilot clinical trial (NCT04932434) in 2023 that tested whether low doses of psilocybin — a psychoactive compound best known as the active agent in so-called magic mushrooms — might help manage anxiety and depression in adults with Parkinson’s disease. The therapy’s developer announced in January that the study was expected to finish collecting patient data in February; however, as of August, the study was still listed as ongoing on the national trial registry.

4. Older age at start of DBS treatment linked to higher risk of death

A study of data from more than 1,000 Parkinson’s patients found that those who underwent deep brain stimulation (DBS) in their 60s or 70s were three times as likely to die in the years following the procedure compared with patients younger than 50 at the time of the surgery. Patients who were male or who had histories of dementia or fractures (broken bones) also were at increased risk of death following DBS, a surgical procedure in which an electrode is implanted into the brain to provide stimulation to specific brain regions. The researchers said these risk factors should be considered by neurologists in assessing the prognosis of patients undergoing DBS.

3. Blood test may help clinicians in making earlier Parkinson’s diagnosis

People with Parkinson’s show elevated amounts of damage to mitochondrial DNA — the DNA that’s stored in mitochondria, the so-called powerhouses of a cell. A study found that a blood test assessing this type of DNA damage could identify people with both genetic and non-genetic forms of Parkinson’s disease. The findings also indicated this type of DNA damage was increased in people carrying a Parkinson’s-causing mutation who don’t have any evident symptoms, implying that this type of damage may be detectable before other obvious signs of the disease.

2. Weakened bones linked to high Parkinson’s risk in older women

A study from Korea that included data on more than 270,000 women, all age 66, found that osteoporosis — a condition characterized by bones that are weakened and more prone to breaking — is associated with an up to 40% increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. Among women with osteoporosis, non-smokers were at higher risk of Parkinson’s than were smokers, but osteoporosis was not associated with increased Parkinson’s risk among smokers, adding to data suggesting smokers are less likely to develop Parkinson’s.

1. Parkinson’s tied with high risk of autoimmune diseases

A meta-analysis that included data on millions of people with and without Parkinson’s found that people with the disease are more likely to have co-occurring autoimmune disorders, in which the immune system attacks the body’s own healthy tissue. Parkinson’s patients specifically had higher rates of the rare skin disorder bullous pemphigoid, inflammatory bowel disease, commonly known as IBD, or Sjögren’s syndrome. While researchers stressed that it’s hard to prove causality, these data suggest immune dysregulation is common in Parkinson’s.

We hope these stories and all our reporting here at Parkinson’s News Today were informational over the past year, and we wish all our readers a bright and happy 2024!