Donald Brian Calne


Neurologist who first used synthetic dopamine to treat Parkinson's disease.

Calne worked as a neurologist at the Hammersmith Hospital and Royal Postgraduate Medical School in London, and as Clinical Director and Chief of the Experimental Therapeutics Branch of the National Institutes of Neurological Diseases at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He has devoted his life to the study of Parkinson's and other degenerative diseases of the brain.

Parkinson's disease affects nearly one in every 100 people over age 55. It destroys the brain cells which produce dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain that relays signals to nerves, allowing the muscles to move. In the 1960s, Oleh Hornykiewicz, a doctor in Vienna, first used levodopa (L-dopa) to replace dopamine in the brain and treat the disease. However, prolonged L-dopa use results in side effects which can lead to total disability. It was Dr. Calne who introduced the first synthetic dopamine agonist (a drug which mimics dopamine in effect). The new treatment is free of some of the fluctuations in motor control that accompany extended use of L-dopa.


Calne also increased understanding of the mechanism of Parkinson's. He was the first to observe latent damage in the brain before symptoms of Parkinson's appear, and, with Dr. J.W. Kebabian, defined the two types of dopamine receptors.

Calne is presently Director of the Neurodegenerative Disorders Centre at UBC. He and a team of 13 researchers are using brain imaging technology to find better and more specific means of treating Parkinson's. The team is testing the effectiveness of electro-convulsive therapy and investigating the role of early viral exposure in increasing the risk of Parkinson's.

Calne has published over 500 papers and chapters on neurology, as well as several books, including Neurodegenerative Diseases, 1994, and most recently Within Reason: Rationality and Human Behavior, 1999.

The Person