The Case of the Frozen Addicts
The Case of The Frozen Addicts is a true story about solving an extraordinary medical illness, Parkinson’s disease, a movement type of disorder of the central nervous system that causes poor muscle control. This paved the way for its new studies and treatments. This tells about the discovery of the cause of Parkinsonism when a group of young adults in North Carolina were brought to the hospital’s emergency room due to signs and symptoms that match that of the particular disease. The author of this book is William Langston, a neurologist and the founder of the Parkinson’s Institute located in Sunnyvale, California. Together with his colleagues, he led the discovery of 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine, also known as MPTP. This is the toxicant responsible for causing of Parkinson’s disease. It acts by affecting the dopamine-containing neurons in the substantia nigra of the brain. MPTP is produced by consuming synthetic heroin which was taken by those young adults who experienced severe Parkinsonism. The objective of this book is to describe the discovery of MPTP and to give way for further researches and a better understanding of Parkinson’s disease to render a better and more effective treatment for patients suffering from it. This book was written for medical professionals, researchers, patients dealing with Parkinson’s disease, and even for the public. This offered deeper insights and made a major breakthrough in the medical field.
Langston and his colleagues were confounded by the state of the first two patients, a couple who suffered from a similar state. The victims brought to the emergency room of Sta. Clara Medical Center were immobile, weren’t blinking, and mute. The symptoms became apparent hours post injection of the street drug, heroin. Examining and looking at them, it seemed like they had been frozen. Phil Ballard, Langston’s colleague in the field of neurology, also witnessed this and suggested that there may be a link between why this has happened to both of the patients. Ballard was then invited to a party by a co-neurologist, James Tetrud. While chatting, they had a chance to talk about the case of the frozen addicts and Tetrud mentions that he has also witnessed two young adults with the same symptoms. They also noted that all four of those patients were addicted to heroin. After this incident, Langston took the opportunity of talking to the media via television. He spread the word about heroin being taken by young people after buying them at the streets. A person who hears this news alerts Langston of two more patients with the same symptoms.
The law enforcers were alerted and they were trying to capture those responsible for selling the bad heroin. Langston then gives them a sample that he got from the leftover powder that his patients had shared. The chemists who studied those leftovers found an analogue of Meperidine, a drug used to treat pain, instead of heroin. But they still didn’t find out the exact structure for this. Turns out, they found out that these narcotics were synthesized by the bodies of the young adults so the effects of severe Parkinsonism came about. They also examined the patients’ chemical flasks and found numerous Meperidine analogues, one which is MTPT. But this analogue didn’t trigger Parkinsonism in rats and mice. So a big question as to which analogue triggered the young adults’ Parkinsonism arose. They tried to treat a patient with Levodopa. But unfortunately, he died within eighteen months due to cocaine overuse. The death was due to the destruction of the youth’s dopamine neurons.
After that unsuccessful event, Langston tried to find help by consulting a chemist, Ian Irwin. Mr. Irwin said that only the MPTP analogues fit the mass spectroscopic test for the powder that Langston’s patients had used. After this belief was relayed to Marky, the NIH scientists worked to further investigate MPTP. After which, they found out that the MPTP was effective in stimulating the effects of severe Parkinsonism in monkeys. Langston then, with the help of his colleagues, verifies this animal and sends out tissue specimens to a neuropathologist for further pathologic investigation.
As Langston’s work was bearing fruit, the issue of Science reported the case of the six patients. Moreover, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science accepted the animal model worked on by the NIH scientists.
This book discussed how designer drugs can cause Parkinsonism. But there are also a number of causes for this. Some theories say that endogenous MPTP were being made by the brain due to genetics, aging, or even the environment. Formaldehyde, Styrofoam plastics and Methylamine are all found in the environment and are components on MPTP so they have a high probability of causing Parkinsonism.
The discovery of the animal model offered a great help in the advancement for the management of Parkinsonism. This was extensively used to test for new treatments such as drugs and possible surgeries. This is one of the most important discoveries that helped out in finding the cause of Parkinson’s disease. It helped by studying new preventative and therapeutic managements to be implemented to the ones suffering from it. Many new researches were brought about by the discovery of the MPTP being able to induce Parkinsonism. Researchers found out that the actual toxin, MPP+, needed to be oxidized by an enzyme called Monoamine Oxidase. They also found out that in Parkinsonism, the substantia nigra pars compacta of the brain has a decreased complex I activity due to the MPP+ which intereferes with it. In animals, it is found that the MPTP’s conversion to MPP+ can be halted by Deprenyl and Pargyline, selective Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors that stops the activities of MPTP. This causes the MPTP to have a zero effect on destroying the neurons of the brain. The discovery of this may help by slowing the effects that Parkinson’s disease can bring to its patients. The animal model also assisted in the research of deep brain stimulation which is a big help for controlling tremors associated with Parkinson’s disease. Moreover, a recent research discovered that Paraquat and Retenone, compounds found in agricultural chemicals can also cause Parkinsonism (Betarbet et al., 2002). There were also further discoveries on fetal neuron transplantation, a surgery that yields a positive effect on patients with Parkinson’s disease.
Since Levodopa, a drug which increases the dopamine levels of the brain, was the recommended drug for the management of Parkinson’s disease, it has numerous side effects and offers no cure. More drugs have been researched and are being approved to obtain the possibilities of curing this disease. Moreover, there is still no way of being able to predict the possibilities of having this disease. Scientists nowadays are perfecting a biomarker to find a biochemical abnormality that could test people for having a high probability of having the disease (Michell et al., 2004). As of today, the most current research for Parkinsonism is a drug called Selegiline which enhances the effects of Levodopa ( Teräväinen, 2009) .
I recommend reading this book. The excitement experienced by the writers was brought on to the readers as they share their knowledge of how the actual incidents for these discoveries happened. Seldom is there a book so thrilling and very informational at the same time. Many more researches about Parkinsonism have been pushing through after this. Today, researchers are studying more areas in the brain that might have a connection with Parkinsonism. There was a big leap for understanding Parkinson’s disease that may help more than a million Americans suffering from it. It was stunning to find out that heroin may be a cause of Parkinsonism and Langston must take credit for the many breakthroughs he has contributed to the medical field. After all these, the human brain is slowly being demystified to discover its vast secrets.
Beterbet, R., Sherrer, T., and Greenamyre, T. (2002). Animal Models of Parkinson’s Disease. Bioessays, 24 308-318.
Langston, W. and Palfreman, J. (1996). The Case of the Frozen Addicts. New York: Pantheon.
Michell, L., Lewis, S., Foltynie, T., and Barker, R. (2004). Biomarkers and Parkinson’s Disease. Brain, 8 1693-1705.
Teräväinen, H. (2009). Selegilline in Parkinson’s Disease. Acta Neurologica Scandinavica, 81 333-336.