Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative condition that affects both the elderly and – in rarer cases – younger patients. Onset symptoms vary dramatically between individuals, but common warning signs affect the limbs and movement. Involuntary movement, tremors and stiffness are all regularly observed in patients. Mental symptoms can further include insomnia, memory loss and depression.
Though not inherently fatal, living with Parkinson’s is life-changing. You can see the attached PDF for an insight into the reality of living with Parkinson’s.
The attached infographic also displays Parkinson’s widespread damage to an ageing population. Working against this, charities and research leaders such as Marios Politis, a Professor of Neurology, are working around the clock to clarify its causes and cures.
The Importance of Drugs and Research
Parkinson’s is caused by severe degradation of a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. This cluster of brain neurons is partly responsible for the production of dopamine.
Significant work by charities and scientists has already helped uncover a few vital clues to the process of neural degeneration. For example, a major breakthrough occurred in 1991, when neural imaging discovered a link between neuron health and dopamine loss. Here, it was found that the substantia nigra’s pattern of neuron loss was directly associated with the associated drops in dopamine.
This neuronal loss was also linked to the worst of the physical symptoms, lending a far clearer view to medicine’s goal of reducing the tremors. It was this aim that saw the breakthrough drug Levodopa being developed in the 1960s. Initially a nausea-inducing medicine, it was found to boost the brain’s production of dopamine, dramatically aiding in tremor reduction.
A Future Free of Parkinson’s
Alongside managing dopamine levels in already-diagnosed patients, the medical community is inching its way further toward outright prevention. For example, it was recently found that PD patients have high levels of alpha-synuclein in their substantia nigra. Alpha-synuclein is a protein molecule and is considered a biomarker of PD.
The issue is that PD is generally only diagnosed after the patient begins experiencing physical symptoms, and by the time the disease is more developed, treatments can be less effective.
You can watch the attached video for an introduction to the Michael J Fox Foundation. This organisation is currently dedicating considerable attention to the possibility of spotting biomarkers such as alpha-synuclein, prior to the onset of life-destroying symptom