Drug Being Pushed as the ‘Cure’ for Parkinson’s is No ‘Miracle’
A video by a Mumbai-based hospital has led to confusion among Parkinson’s patients.
A video by a Mumbai-based hospital has led to confusion among Parkinson’s patients. (Photo: iStockphoto)

Drug Being Pushed as the ‘Cure’ for Parkinson’s is No ‘Miracle’

(FIT is re-publishing this piece for World Parkinson’s Disease Day, which is observed every year on April 11 to spread awareness about this condition.)

A video produced by Nanavati Hospital, a leading hospital in Mumbai, began doing the rounds of social media and specifically among the Parkinson’s community in the last couple of months.

The video has Dr Ali Irani, the head of Physiotherapy department in Nanavati, talking about Parkinson’s disease and how it impacts the movement of patients. It then talks about Nanavati Hospital’s collaboration with King’s College, London and bringing to India an injectable drug that can dramatically reverse a Parkinson’s patient’s movements.

It further shows a patient who has had the disease for over 16 years. He has considerable movement disorder associated with the neuro-degenerative disease. Minutes after getting the shot of this new drug he begins to not just walk normally but also do pushups.

The video also has a doctor from King’s College talking about the drug that is used in the UK, but is being brought to India in collaboration with Nanavati Hospital.

The drug being spoken about is Apomorphine.

FIT spoke with leading neurologists to debunk the video.

It’s Not a Cure-all

 The video first shows a patient showing significant movement symptoms associated with PD. The patient is then given a shot of apomorphine. He then not only starts walking normally, but also running and doing push ups.
The video first shows a patient showing significant movement symptoms associated with PD. The patient is then given a shot of apomorphine. He then not only starts walking normally, but also running and doing push ups.
Screen grabs from Nanavati Hospital video

Dr Manjari Tripathi, Professor of Neurology at AIIMS, calls out the video for being propaganda.

Apomorphine is not a miracle cure for Parkinson’s disease and the video is irresponsible. The fact is that apomorphine works only for a very select set of patients with advanced Parkinson’s where the effects of the drug levodopa, the mainstay of Parkinson’s disease, slows down.
Dr Manjari Tripathi, Professor of Neurology at AIIMS

Who is this Drug Given to?

The drug has been approved by the Drug Controller General of India strictly for those patients who develop dyskinesia and motor fluctuations and after oral tablets of levodopa and carbidopa have been given for several years. This is a small percentage of Parkinson’s patients.

Dyskinesia is an abnormal, uncontrolled, involuntary movement. It looks like fidgeting, writhing, wriggling, head bobbing or body swaying.

The drug has to be given for the first time under medical supervision.

And here’s the most important factor. The effects of this drug last less than an hour. Something that the video fails to mention.

Dr Sanjay Saxena, senior director, Neurosurgery, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Patparganj, says he’s been inundated with calls from his patients every since the video went viral.

It’s not a new drug, though it may be new to India. How apomorphine functions is a lot like insulin.

The two doctors explain that apomorphine acts by mimicking the actions of dopamine, a substance in the brain that is lacking in Parkinson’s patients. It is used to treat what’s called “off” episodes in people with PD. As medication wears off, patients enter an “off” period, when it becomes difficult to move, walk, speak or swallow. It’s important to remember that it will not prevent “off” episodes from happening, it will simply improve your symptoms for a short period of time.

It is an SOS medicine and used be used only under specific conditions.
Dr Saxena

Side Effects

More importantly, it comes with side effects of which the video makes no reference.

  • Nausea: Vomiting and nausea can be so severe, patients are advised to take anti-vomiting medicine 2-3 days before being given apomorphine.
  • Rapid fall in BP: Apomorphine can lead to low blood pressure, increasing your chances of falling.
  • For patients who suffer from Parkinson’s Disease Psychosis, that includes depression, hallucinations and delusions, apomorphine can make their symptoms worse.
  • Some patients may develop compulsive behaviours.

Once the video became viral, the Movement Disorders Society of India issued this statement: “There is no magic drug or a cure all or a one-size-fits-all treatment for Parkinson’s. Physicians, people with Parkinson’s and their caregivers are adviced to be wary of any misleading information appearing is SM assuring of the same.”

After severe criticism, Nanavati Hospital issued a clarification that while the video shows immediate effect of apomorphine, it’s effects are short lasting and the patient may require multiple injects or installation of pump for a sustained response, reports Mumbai Mirror.

Also Read : Start. Stop. Eyes Glaze Over. (How a Parkinson’s Patient Talks)

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