Saint Marys to offer new test for Parkinsons

April 3, 2011
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Saint Mary’s Health Care is joining hospitals at the universities of Michigan and Toledo as the first in the Midwest to offer a new way to diagnose Parkinson’s syndromes.

In January, the Food and Drug Administration approved DaTscan, a radiopharmaceutical agent used with a nuclear medicine gamma camera to detect dopamine transmission in the brain, said Dr. Chad Williams, a Grand Rapids radiologist who will be interpreting the images.

It is being marketed by GE Healthcare.

“This has been available in Europe for many years,” Williams added.

The test will be used when a definitive answer is necessary to separate Parkinson’s patients from those who have essential tremor or side effects from drugs, explained Dr. Leslie Neuman, Saint Mary’s neurologist.

While the symptoms can be similar, treatment differs, he explained. Getting incorrect medication can result in little relief from symptoms such as head and hand shaking and a shuffling gait.

“To me, it was exciting when I first realized it was going to be in the wings. I thought I’d be using it occasionally,” Neuman said. “The more patients I see, the more I see who might benefit. It’s going to find a role in a lot of different facets.”

Neuman said about one-fifth of his patients could benefit from the test, which is expected to debut at Saint Mary’s in April.

He said the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor and the University of Toledo Medical Center are also expected to offer the test.

“For our patients, we used to evaluate them through clinical examination, blood tests and other diagnostic procedures, but these tests are not definitive and misdiagnosis is relatively common,” Neuman said.

However, the test cannot distinguish between the types of Parkinson’s syndromes.

Neuman said that he anticipates that now that DaTscan is available, clinical trials for Parkinson’s will choose participants based on the scan’s results.

Williams said that for patients, the test involves an injection, a waiting period of one to four hours for the agent to work and the head scan.

Neuman said that patients will need to take a medication that blocks the thyroid, and the test could cause a reaction in people allergic to iodine.

“There is considerable evidence supporting its use in diagnosing Parkinson’s disease,” according to a statement from Peter Schmidt, the National Parkinson Foundation’s vice president of programs and chief information officer.

“Most guidelines for PD recommend a consultation with a specialist for every patient and imaging only in cases where there is some question that can be answered by the test. For those questionable cases, this is a powerful new tool.”

Neurologists, psychiatrists and primary care physicians may have interest in prescribing the test.

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