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U.S. hopes creatine will help disease

A federal institute is researching the muscle- building supplement's effect on Parkinson's.

March 23, 2007|Jamie Talan | Newsday

The muscle-building nutritional supplement creatine may benefit patients with Parkinson's disease, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The federal agency is investing in one of the largest and longest treatment trials for the serious movement disorder with hopes that mega-doses of a pharmaceutical-grade creatine will help stall the disease.

"It is very exciting," said Dr. Debra Babcock, a neurologist at the federal institute who is working on the 51-site study that will involve 1,700 patients. "This may well be a neuroprotective agent that could prevent the disease from getting worse."

Today's Parkinson's medicines are aimed at lessening the symptoms, rather than slowing the disease.

More than a million people in the United States have Parkinson's, with symptoms such as muscle rigidity, tremors and problems walking.

Creatine, used by bodybuilders to enhance exercise performance, is also in early stage testing as a treatment for Lou Gehrig's disease and Huntington's, both neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson's.

The federal government has been working on novel ways to screen compounds in humans. At first, scientists with the National Institutes of Health targeted about 40 drugs that looked as though they might have an effect on Parkinson's. They have identified 30 more. Of the first four drugs studied in newly diagnosed Parkinson's patients with hardly any symptoms and treated for a year, only one stood out: creatine.

"It seemed that those patients taking creatine didn't get worse over the testing period," Babcock said. But she said that such a finding doesn't mean that the drug works. It could have been something different about the patient population in that arm of the study.

It is hoped that the large multi-center trial will answer that question. "This study is an important step toward developing a therapy that could change the course of this devastating disease," said NIH Director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni. Unlike the early study on creatine, patients enrolled in this long-term study will be allowed to take other Parkinson's medications. The treatment will last five years, at the end of which the level of disability among patients receiving creatine and those on a placebo will be compared.

Studies in the laboratory and in animal models of Parkinson's suggest that creatine improves the function of the cell's energy machinery -- the mitochondria. Parkinson's results when an important brain chemical called dopamine is lost and dopamine-containing cells die. Dopamine controls movement and mood.

Patients in the NIH study who get the drug, rather than a placebo, will be taking 10 grams of pharmaceutical-grade creatine daily. Their movement will be studied throughout the trial.

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