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Spotlight on Research Supported by PDF: Amie L. Peterson, M.D.
Amie L. Peterson, M.D.
Can something as basic as taking your vitamins ease some of the effects of Parkinson’s disease (PD)? This is the question behind the research of Amie L. Peterson, M.D., a movement disorders fellow at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, OR. She is looking at vitamin D — found as a nutrient in foods such as fish and milk, in dietary supplements, and most importantly, created by the skin with sun exposure — as a potential therapy to improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s.
Dr. Peterson’s research is funded under the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF)-Parkinson Study Group (PSG) Mentored Research Award, which expects its recipients to focus on “patient-centered research.” Dr. Peterson emphasizes that addressing falls and balance is vital to the safety and well-being of people with PD. These problems are not just bothersome, but also dangerous; in fact, they are a major cause of injuries and mortality in later-stage PD. Yet there is no medication available that a person with Parkinson’s can take to ease balance issues and reduce his or her risk for falls.
Could vitamin D be the answer? Studies show that people with PD have lower vitamin D levels than do healthy individuals. Furthermore, research among people who have balance issues — but are not living with PD — has suggested that vitamin D supplements may lead to a decrease in falls.
To see if the same finding holds true for people living with PD, Dr. Peterson is conducting a pilot study among 40 such individuals. She will benefit from the knowledge of her mentors, Jay Nutt, M.D., a well-known movement disorder specialist and Fay Horak, Ph.D., an expert on gait and balance. Dr. Peterson will compare vitamin D levels and balance performance among people with Parkinson’s disease to see if there is any correlation between the two.
She is planning a larger study to investigate more thoroughly whether people who take a vitamin D supplement versus a placebo find an improvement in balance and strength, and a decrease in their falls.
As Dr. Peterson puts it, “Down the road, if the vitamin D approach works, it could demonstrate a simple way for people with PD to improve daily life and avoid potential injuries. And if it turns out that vitamin D is not the answer, the research will still have improved our understanding of gait, balance and strength, which are sorely under-addressed issues in Parkinson’s.”
The Mentored Research Award is funded by PDF’s Advancing Parkinson’s Therapies Innovations Grant, which, in FY2010, totaled $175,000.