Parkinson’s Researcher Wins Grant to Identify New Therapy for Gait Impairment

Corneliu Luca, M.D., Ph.D., the Miller School’s movement disorder fellow and neurology instructor, has been awarded a 2012 American Academy of Neurology Clinical Research Training Fellowship to test a possible medication for patients with Parkinson’s disease who have impaired gait.

Funded by the American Academy of Neurology and the American Academy of Neurology Foundation, the fellowships include a two-year, $130,000 grant designed to nurture the next generation of clinical neurology researchers. Luca will use the award to conduct a randomized, double blind trial to assess the safety and efficacy of 4-aminopyridine in patients with Parkinson’s disease-related gait dysfunction at the University of Miami Movement Disorders Center.

Gait imbalance and falls are a major cause of morbidity in patients with advanced Parkinson’s, and currently there are limited therapies to address this.

However, 4-aminopyridine has been shown to increase walking speed in patients with multiple sclerosis and has been approved by the FDA for this purpose. Based on its favorable action on multiple neuronal populations in the central nervous system, Luca believes the drug may likewise help patients with Parkinson’s.

“I am excited to start working on this clinical project that has the potential to bring a new therapy for patients with Parkinson’s disease,’’ he said. “Existing therapies, including dopaminergic medications, have limited efficacy for the treatment of gait dysfunction, and patients continue to develop gait problems in spite of available medical and surgical therapies. Therefore, it is extremely important to identify new means to help patients with gait impairment. If this medication proves useful for patients with Parkinson’s, its use may be extended to other disorders that have associated gait dysfunction.’’

In addition to the American Academy of Neurology, Luca credited collaboration with great mentors — including Carlos Singer, M.D., professor of neurology and chief of the Movement Disorders Division, Michael Benatar, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurology, Tatjana Rundek, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurology, and Fatta Nahab, M.D., assistant professor of clinical neurology — for making his study, Exploring 4–Aminopyridine as a Therapeutic Approach for Gait Dysfunction in Parkinson’s Disease, possible.

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