Doctor discovers possible cure for Parkinson's Disease

By Julie Fann
star staff
JOHNSON CITY -- A neurobiologist who operates a small laboratory and pharmaceutical company in southwest Virginia believes he has found a possible cure for Parkinson's disease, a debilitating illness that afflicts approximately four million people world-wide. Dr. Keith Latham spoke to members of the Northeast Tennessee Parkinson's Support Group Tuesday evening at Quillen Rehabilitation Hospital.
According to Latham, the drug, called Parkinol, causes a dramatic cure in rats that are given the disease. Rats respond to Parkinson's disease by perpetually spinning in circles. When the rats are administered Parkinol, the spinning stops completely for approximately four weeks, he said.
"I am highly encouraged now to do clinical trials, and we are trying to get funding to do clinical research," Latham said. The project, which would be performed by Latham's company, Innovative Technologies, is estimated to cost between $4 and $5 million. Latham has presented his findings to King Pharmaceutical Company in Bristol, Tenn. and Pfizer, Inc. On Oct. 6, he will also visit Orion Pharmaceuticals, based in Finland.
"It's a good idea that isn't going to get there very fast because we don't have funding for it. There are lots of approaches to Parkinson's right now. This Parkinol has the potential to actually cure the disease," he said.
Latham, whose wife contracted Parkinson's seven years ago, has developed an oxidation theory in regard to degenerative neurological illnesses. He explained that certain parts of the body use oxygen more than others, and the brain is one of them, especially a section of the brain called the substantia-nigra.
"Huge amounts of oxygen make free radicals, which are extremely toxic because they are cells that are leaky in that they don't keep energy bottled up. Free radicals get away from normal biochemistry and start to kill off brain cells," Latham said, which results in symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
As brain cells die, the level of dopamine, an important neurotransmitter in the brain, also drops substantially. The drug Latham has developed performs a two-fold task in that it simultaneously quenches free radicals in the brain and releases dopamine.
Currently, active Parkinol has been synthesized, a patent application has been submitted by Latham's laboratory, and Latham has initiated a formulation of the drug for oral use.
"Recovery was so dramatic in the rats. All of the other (drugs), none of them were as good. Probably (the drug would) be a dose you take on a daily basis, or you could take it for a couple of months and then be done with it," Latham said.
Latham has performed neurological research on degenerative illness as a result of human aging for the past 20 years. He also holds degrees in electrical engineering and biophysics. Following post-doctoral training in pharmaceutical chemistry and molecular endocrinology, he spent 10 years as a professor of medicine and published over 75 scientific papers, book chapters and abstracts.
Peggy Willocks, former principal of Harold McCormick Elementary School who has Parkinson's disease, discovered Latham's work on the Internet and toured his facility. Willocks has served as president of the Northeast Tennessee Parkinson's Support Group for the past five years and said she is hopeful about Latham's discovery.
"I'm cautiously optimistic, but every little discovery is that much closer to finding a cure. The fact that his wife has Parkinson's disease gives him, maybe, more motivation. We definitely want to support this man and what he is doing," Willocks said.
Information about Latham's discovery can be found on the Web at