Sun Health launches Parkinson’s study

December 8, 2008

By Flinn Foundation

[Source:] – The Michael J. Fox Foundation has awarded the Sun Health Research Institute a $75,000 grant to study new equipment that treats Parkinson’s disease, adding to the growing list of activities at the Northwest Valley research facility.

The Parkinson’s study is the institute’s first major undertaking since it was acquired by Banner Health in September. The merger gave the institute a larger talent pool of scientists for such studies, since it now has access to resources at the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, a research facility in Phoenix.

The growth in local medical research doesn’t only mean access to top-notch care for local residents. It is another piece in the economic-development puzzle for Surprise, the Sun Cities and other area communities, improving their prospects for attracting high-paying jobs in the fields of health and sciences.

“It just sort of shows there’s activity going on here, and it plays into our overall strategy in trying to create some jobs in the whole medical arena, whether it’s health care or research and development,” Surprise Economic Development Director John Hagen said.

The new Parkinson’s study examines the use of Nexalin headgear, a pad that attaches to patients’ forehead. Electrodes connected to the pad emit low-frequency triggers that are supposed to stop Parkinson’s tremors. The treatments are administered one hour a day, five days a week, for two weeks during the study.

What has researchers excited is Nexalin’s “no fuss, no muss” appeal. Surgery is not required for the treatment.

“The procedure is non-invasive because it’s actually headgear that you wear. It would be invasive if it went inside your body,” said Banner Health spokeswoman Elle Shelley.

The Institute has six participants for the study, and a goal of getting 18 more.

Since opening its clinical-trial program eight years ago, Sun Health has conducted a variety of studies, and the Parkinson’s trial is just one of a handful currently getting underway, according to Brian Browne, the Research Institute’s public information officer. Eleven clinical studies are preparing to enroll participants, he said.

Most of Sun Health’s trials involve those afflicted with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, though one underway is a bladder-cancer clinical trial.

Browne said the Valley, particularly retirement areas like the Sun Cities, are prime targets for such clinical studies because it is in these communities “where we are seeing a number of neurological degenerative diseases of aging.”

Browne said the recent merger of Banner and Sun Health “has positively impacted the way we do clinical trials. Some of our clinical trials are done in conjunction with our sister institute, Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, and when you have that kind of synergy, you do much more in collaboration than separtely.”

Banner’s ownership transition, however, will continue to affect Surprise’s efforts to get a biotech campus off the ground, Hagen said.

“Until that acquisition is fully digested, they’re not going to be as big a player as we like,” Hagen said, adding he expects the transition to last another six to 12 months.

Surprise, however, continues to pursue other medical and biotechnology opportunities.
The city recently announced that three science-related firms are interested in leasing the old City Hall building on Bell Road to serve as an incubator for start-up companies. City leaders are weighing each option, and a decision eventually will go before the City Council.

The city will not elaborate on the proposals until discussions proceed, Hagen said.

The city also has identified several key land parcels with potential for biotech development. It has put the most emphasis on 500-plus acres south of Bell Road and Bullard Avenue that is expected to become the future downtown. Sun Health Properties, a land-ownership group separate from the research institute, has a stake in that property.

There also is land at the city’s Southwest Railplex, bordered by Peoria Avenue and Dysart, Waddell and Litchfield roads, and at the Prasada development along Loop 303, Hagen said.
For information on the new Parkinson’s clinical trial, call 623-875-6500.