For those who are into scientific literature, the name Oliver Sacks may sound familiar. Dr. Oliver Sacks is a renowned neurologist, who documented many of his patients’ cases in the form of books. He dedicated his life to working with rare nervous system conditions that often had no cure. Some Dr. Oliver Sack’s most famous works include: A Leg to Stand On, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and Awakenings.
The story details Dr. Sacks’s experiences at the Beth Abraham Home for the Incurables. His patients comprised of people who were stricken by encephalitis lethargica. Encephalitis lethargica is a neurological disease that can eventually lead to coma. Tragically, those who survived the virus were reduced to a state similar to a severe form of Parkinson’s disease. In other words, they were unable to move and acted more like statues than real people. Sacks described his patients as being “insubstantial as ghosts, and as passive as zombies“. But, there was hope for these stone-like people. The drug Levodopa, or L-Dopa for short, showed promise to serve as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
After Dr. Sacks administered L-Dopa to his patients, all of them seemed to snap back to life. All of a sudden, these people who were regarded as practically dead were now all full of life again. They had awakened. Unfortunately, the positive effects of L-Dopa did not last. Many patients eventually experienced manic behaviour and Dr. Sacks was forced to discontinue the drug.
What exactly is L-Dopa? As its name suggests, L-Dopa is an amino acid precursor of dopamine. In short, the drug converts into dopamine inside the brain through the process of decarboxylation. According to a study by George C. Cotzias, Paul S. Papavasiliou, and Rosemary Gellene, L-Dopa induced partial improvement in Parkinson patients; however, the drug lead to evidence of toxicity within the patients’ bodies. Moreover, negative side effects, such as nausea and vomiting, occurred when increases to the patients’ daily dosages slowed down. Unfortunately, to make matters worse, involuntary movements ranged from fleeting to severe in some patients. It seemed that L-Dopa was doing as much good as it was doing bad.
Sadly, the overall performance of L-Dopa was lacklustre at best. Consequently, those suffering from conditions such as Parkinson’s are going to have to wait a little longer for a permanent, safe, and effective cure.