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Spotlight on Research

This new feature of PDF News & Review will highlight the research of members of the PDF-funded, multi-disciplinary teams dedicated to solving Parkinson's at Columbia University Medical Center, Cornell University Medical Center and Rush University Medical Center.

Dr. Blair Ford, Associate Professor of Clinical Neurology, Columbia University Medical Center

Dr. Ford's work at Columbia is a balance of patient care, medical education, and clinical research, and each aspect of this work drives and enriches the other two. For 12 years, he has been studying and caring for patients with PD, with a focus on developing and applying innovative new therapies.

In recent years, Dr. Ford's central research interest has been deep brain stimulation (DBS), the surgical technique for treating symptoms of Parkinson's disease. In his role as Medical Director of the Center for Movement Disorder Surgery at Columbia, Dr. Ford coordinates one of the busiest centers in North America for the neurosurgical treatment of PD. He was the lead investigator in a recent study that provided painstakingly careful outcome measures of subthalamic nucleus (STN) stimulation in a group of 30 patients with advanced Parkinson's disease. In the September 2004 issue of the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, Dr. Ford and colleagues reported that when blinded evaluations of videotaped neurological examinations are used to assess outcomes, patients who undergo DBS show a 30 percent improvement in motor scores after one year, and this effect is directly proportional to the maximal benefit a patient derives from individual doses of levodopa.

Dr. Ford's particular focus is the long-term outcomes of DBS, its effect on cognition and dementia, and the precise relationship between symptom control and electrode location. To address these issues, Dr. Ford and his colleagues evaluate every potential surgical candidate at Columbia in great detail, both in the medicated and unmedicated states, using several rating scales, quality of life questionnaires and neuropsychological testing. Stimulating the brain to treat PD is one of the most important advances in the Parkinson field, and Dr. Ford and his colleagues hope to be at the forefront of this research.

Dr. Ford is the author of numerous articles and book chapters on Parkinson's disease. He has participated in many clinical trials, and was Columbia's principal investigator in an important multi-center randomized trial of the effects of early levodopa treatment in patients with PD. Sponsored by the NIH and known as ELLDOPA, the four-year study found no evidence that levodopa is toxic.

In his role as an educator, Dr. Ford organizes Columbia's state-of-the-art course on DBS for neurologists and neurosurgeons. He has also authored PDF's popular booklet, Surgery for Parkinson's Disease: A Guide for Patients, Family and Caregivers. He has given many lectures at various institutions and conferences, and is frequently asked to speak with patients at support group meetings and forums. Dr. Ford sees all of his work - the patient care, the education and the research - as complementary dimensions of his commitment to helping people who live with Parkinson's disease.