Dr. Julius Anang, Clinical Research Fellow,
Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, McGill University
Clinical Research Fellowship: $100,000 over two years

Caffeine for treatment of Parkinson’s disease

Reducing the stiffness, tremors and freezing that characterize Parkinson’s disease, or slowing the progression of the disease, might not be as complicated as developing an entirely new drug. At McGill University, Dr. Julius Anang and his colleagues think drinking a little more coffee every day might just do the trick.

Anang, a neurologist, is a clinical research fellow helping to run a clinical trial studying the effects of caffeine on the motor symptoms of people with Parkinson’s. Previous studies indicate that people who drink coffee have a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s than people who do not.

Anang and his team are investigating whether coffee improves motor and non-motor symptoms in Parkinson’s, by asking some participants in their study to take caffeine capsules every day, compared to patients who receive a placebo, or sugar pill.

“We will reassess the study participants at three and six months for any motor or non-motor benefits, but we plan to continue the study for another four-and-a-half years to see how sustained the benefits are,” says Anang.

The researchers are looking not only for immediate improvements in people’s ability to walk or move, but also a reduction in daytime sleepiness, anxiety, depressive symptoms, fatigue, constipation, and changes in blood pressure. If positive changes occur, they would suggest that caffeine not only modifies the symptoms, it could modify the disease over time.

“Could caffeine slow down or stop the progression of Parkinson’s disease? Is there some neuro-protective effect? We are excited to see how things go,” says Anang.

Anang was inspired to become a neurologist during medical school in Germany, when he encountered a 67-year-old man with repeated lung infections. When a neurologist on the ward noticed the patient’s stiffness, he treated his symptoms successfully with levodopa. The patient was able to stay out of hospital without respiratory infections for a long time, says Anang.

“I realized this is a population of patients where one can really change the outcomes. Some of the cases are difficult, but when the patient leaves the room with a smile – I do feel we might have affected the patient’s life positively, and we are able to help with a lot of the symptoms.”