Many anecdotes suggest that people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) can experience a marked improvement in symptoms when they travel to the mountains or during flights at high altitude. This remarkable effect may be explained by the lower levels of oxygen (this is called “hypoxia”) which – according to interesting laboratory work – can stimulate the production of dopamine, the chemical compound missing in the brains of people with PD. Repeated exposure to brief periods of hypoxia may even stimulate the brain’s dopamine system to adjust itself in a beneficial way.
Hypoxia could be a new treatment for Parkinson’s disease, to improve symptoms (just like medication) and perhaps to slow down the disease progression.
In Study A, we will test four different treatment protocols of hypoxia and one control condition (normal oxygen levels), to determine how hypoxia can best improve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. This study involves 15 participants tested in a special laboratory where we can carefully check the clinical effects plus the safety of this new treatment. The most promising hypoxia protocol will then be tested in Study B, where 20 participants are treated at home, three times a week, for four weeks. Twenty other participants receive a treatment that appears identical but with normal oxygen levels (control group). We will assess the safety and feasibility of this home-based treatment, determine whether longer treatments provide greater benefit, and evaluate how long the improvements last after the treatment.
Impact on Diagnosis/Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease:
This present study will provide the very first “proof-of-concept” evidence for hypoxia as a novel treatment for PD. If proven to be effective and safe, hypoxia could present a completely new therapy to improve symptoms and perhaps also to slow Parkinson’s progression. The treatment is low cost, easily applicable and can be readily combined with any existing treatments.
Next Steps for Development:
If successful, this study will inspire subsequent trials with more participants.