In Search of Bold New Therapies - Giving to UVA

In Search of Bold New Therapies

Binit B. Shah, MD, assistant professor of neurology; and W. Jeffrey Elias, MD, professor of neurological surgery and neurology and director of stereotactic and functional neurosurgery

With or without espresso, all human beings have some tremor—slight, shaky movements of the hands. But tremor also can be the first symptom that people with Parkinson’s disease, or their family members, notice.

Today, some one to two million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s disease. There is still no cure, so medication and therapies are focusing on treating symptoms.
At UVA, neurosurgeon Jeffrey Elias and neurologist Binit Shah are searching for answers together—who better to find an improved way to treat Parkinson’s?

The team’s research project aims to identify which neurotransmitters are responsible for the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders. Once the neurotransmitters are identified, their goal is to design and develop highly selective therapies to optimize symptom relief while minimizing associated side effects.

Elias and Shah are in the preliminary stages of a two-phase clinical trial to test these drugs. Their work recently received a major boost when John Mitchell of Berryville, Virginia—whose late wife received her care at UVA Medical Center— made a two-part gift: $1 million (through his will) to create a Parkinson’s disease clinical research endowment in memory of his wife, Dottie Mitchell; and $250,000 for current use.

“Mr. Mitchell’s gift has completely advanced our research by years,” Elias said.

The outright gift funded the mechanics involved in taking a great laboratory concept to the bedside—where they expect patients to begin benefiting from the new therapies within a year. The Mitchell gift was specifically used to fund a research project that provides supporting evidence for the concept behind
the trial. Additionally, a portion helped hire a consultant to assist with regulatory requirements for the trial.

The long-term impact of the research—and Mitchell’s gift—is huge. “This pilot study has the potential to position UVA as a pioneer in these therapies and help us offer leading-edge treatments for people with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders,” Shah said.

Faculty Excellence

Amy Yancey