Yale School of Medicine

Yale Researchers Study Potential Treatment for Depression in Patients With Parkinson's Disease

The research team is looking for people to get involved in a clinical trial on ketamine.

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Yale researchers are studying a potential treatment for depression in patients with Parkinson’s disease: ketamine. They are looking for people in Connecticut to help and get involved with a newly-launched clinical trial.

Nearly one million people in the United States are living with Parkinson’s Disease, according to Parkinson’s Foundation.

Dr. Sophie Holmes, assistant professor in the psychiatry department at Yale University, knows one.

“My father was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease about six years ago,” Holmes said.

The neurodegenerative disorder causes motor issues, like trembling and trouble with balance, but a lesser-known symptom is depression, something her dad dealt with early on.

“He noticed some mood symptoms before,” Holmes said.

It's one reason she is passionate about the new research coming out of Yale School of Medicine.

“I thought I could use my expertise to help with a really important yet understudied and untreated symptom of Parkinson's disease,” she said.

Since standard anti-depressants are often less effective in patients with Parkinson’s, Yale researchers are looking at an anesthetic drug called ketamine.

“Our first hope is to show that we can really benefit people suffering from Parkinson's disease, and improving their mood state in relieving some of the burden that they feel with depression and anxiety,” Dr. Gerard Sanacora, director of the Yale Depression Research Program, said.

Lab tests over the past two decades show ketamine is as effective as an anti-depressant.

Now, the researchers are working to translate those findings to people with a clinical study. It launched in November of 2021 and will run through August of 2024.

“We greatly appreciate people that are willing to be involved in a study like this, because it is so important for the field,” Sanacora said.

The scientists are looking for people with Parkinson’s disease or depression to get involved. Participants will get ketamine or a placebo twice a week for three weeks.

“Before we'll assess their symptoms of depression, as well as their Parkinson's disease symptoms, and then afterwards, we'll do the same and see if ketamine helps with reducing depression,” Holmes said.

They are also using imaging to measure how ketamine works in the brain.

Beyond curbing depression, the researchers believe the drug might also halt, or even reverse, the neurodegenerative process caused by Parkinson’s disease.

“We actually have hopes that we may have larger effects on the disease progression,” Sanacora said. “This is very, very early, we need to follow that carefully, but that is part of the hope of the study.”

If you would like to get involved in the clinical study, you can contact the Yale research team at ketaminepd@yale.edu or (475) 287-9521.

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