Individualized patient study of Parkinson’s disease begins at NorthShore University HealthSystem

GLENVIEW — A Glenview resident and medical director of neurology is leading a 15-year, international study on Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Demetrius “Jim” Maraganore is lead investigator of a project unveiled in June that collects data on 3,000 patients in 13 countries.

He works for NorthShore University HealthSystem and is director of the NorthShore Neurological Institute, which provided 1,000 patient DNA blood samples to the study.

Maraganore, who grew up in Skokie, emphasized the project’s unique approach was in collecting information on individual patients over many years.

“It’s a moving picture, historically, and not a snap shot of patients at one point in time,” Maraganore said Wednesday at Evanston Hospital — one of four NorthShore hospitals in suburban Chicago.

He explained the investigation dwelled on how does Parkinson’s progress over time, and why some people develop more severe disabilities than others.

“Some end up in wheelchairs, some get dementia and some people respond or don’t to certain medications.

“With lots of data over time, we’re dealing with the law of averages and range of possibilities on finding individual treatments for individual patients,” he said.

Parkinson’s is a progressive disease of the nervous system, demonstrated by tremors, muscular rigidity and slow movement mostly in middle-age people and the elderly.

Maraganore, who chaired the Department of Movement Disorders at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., explained his project was aligned with the medical community’s study of individual genes that started in the mid-1980s.

Known as genomics, the discipline studies the identification and sequencing of genes and applying that DNA knowledge to medicine and other sciences.

In the past, doctors and researchers confronted Parkinson’s reactively, but with historical data on individual patients Maraganore saw a current proactive strategy under way.

“And people with Parkinson’s disease want to know what will happen to them, not why,” he said, explaining his legwork hoped to uncover patient data leading to opportunities for treatments.

Maraganore pursued Parkinson’s disease because he believed, “The brain is the last frontier of the medical universe.

“We know how a heart functions as a muscle, but a brain is all about our humanity,” he added.

Dr. Michael Caplan, chief scientific officer and chairman of pediatrics for NorthShore University HealthSystem, said his colleague had invested much time into the electronic collection of patient data going into the project.

“It’s all done to keep better records of these people’s medical information that creates robust advances into this field,” said Caplan, a Highland Park resident.

“(Maraganore) already has incredible energy and an understanding of genetic factors that contribute to Parkinson’s disease.

“Because of his drive, in addition I’m also confident he’ll make advances in this field.”

A 1979 graduate of Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Maraganore’s father moved from Athens to Chicago in 1959.

He studied medicine and was a pathologist at the University of Chicago, while his mother was a midwife.

“I saw my dad work in the lab all the time. I also worked in the lab every summer. I thought the only life for me was in medicine,” he said.

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