Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive, lingering, and usually fatal movement disorder. Progressive meaning the symptoms are always present and worsen over time. This disease is wide spread and there are nearly one million people in the U.S. that have Parkinson’s. This disease does not have a known cure yet, but you can treat and manage the symptoms with medication and surgery. Parkinson’s disease involves the malfunction and death of vital cells in the brain, called neurons, and affects the area of the brain called the substania nigra (Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, 2014, ‘Understanding Parkinson’s’).
The specific symptoms that are normally associated with Parkinson’s include tremors of the hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face, slowness of movement, stiffness of the limbs and joints, frequent imbalance and lack of coordination(PDF, 2014, ‘Understanding Parkinson’s’). Scientists are exploring the hypothesis that cell loss and death in other areas of the brain and body could contribute to the development or worsening of Parkinson’s.
The processes of neurodegeneration and the theories behind the development of Parkinson’s have been studied for years but are still not fully understood (Foltynie, T., Sawcer, S., Brayne, C., & Barker, R, 2002); there is considerable evidence that suggests that multiple factors, including genetic background, amount of activity, and diet, could contribute to the development of Parkinson’s. In a few families, Parkinson’s disease is known to be inherited in a Mendelian fashion (Foltynie, T., Sawcer, S., Brayne, C., & Barker, R), and in some of these cases, the genes that cause this disease have already been recognized and the possible pathogenic instruments that have been recognized are being studied and are being looked into for a cure (Foltynie, T., Sawcer, S., Brayne, C., & Barker, R,). Further possible gene mutations and efforts to identify genes influencing susceptibility to the disease in general are being studied. The identification of such susceptibility genes will eventually enable us to more accurately relegate this intricate disease (Foltynie, T., Sawcer, S., Brayne, C., & Barker, R, 2002, ‘the genetic basis of Parkinson’s disease’).
There are multiple social issues when it comes to dealing with Parkinson’s, like when people don’t understand or realize the full effect of Parkinson’s. Shelley Schwarz (2006) states that, at any age it can be difficult to share your feelings with your friends, and especially difficult if you were diagnosed at a young age like your early 20’s. You may have to tell the people you see often, like your hair dresser, dentist, co-workers, or teachers about your disease so that they know you might shake, move slowly, fall, lose balance, or have trouble speaking. There are even racial stereotypes involved with Parkinson’s, mentioned in an article in the Sun Sentinel (Brochu, 2013) The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research is testing for possible clues to preventing and curing the disease, the study hopes to test about four hundred Ashkenazi Jews for the LLRK2 gene which is the most common link connected to Parkinson’s to date (Brochu).
The LLRK2 gene, which is located on the 12th chromosome, is a genetic mutation that has been seen in most of the people that have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Not everyone that has Parkinson’s has the LRRK2 mutation and vice versa, but it does increase the chances of the disease emerging by up to 75%, where the risk for an average American is 1%. But scientific studies show that a handful of behaviors lowers the rates and lessens the symptoms of the disease, one thing that has helped most people is exercise. One study found that young men who work out have a 60% lower risk of developing PD, and surprisingly, two things that you would never expect to help Parkinson’s, First coffee is shown to reduce the risk of PD, it is thought to be because of the caffeine but more studies have to be done to confirm it. The second thing that helps is cigarette smoking, though the costs greatly outweigh the benefits. (Gotez, 2012)
Sergey Brin, a scientist, carries the LRRK2 gene, and with daily exercise at the pool and green tea, for its caffeine content, he hopes to diminish his chance of developing PD, by adjusting his activity/caffeine algorithm and counteracting his DNA with these environmental factors. Brin is a 36 year old man, but he is not just the average Joe, he is half of the partnership that founded Google and he is now worth ~$15 billion, and he has contributed $50 million+ to Parkinson’s research. He doesn’t look to cure the disease, but rather to provide a method of escape from the disease in the first place. (Gotez)
In conclusion, Parkinson’s disease may only directly affect about a million people in the U.S. but it touches the lives of billions of individuals, millions of families, and thousands of scientists that all devote their lives to the disease. Scientists have made great discoveries in the study of Parkinson’s and they are coming close to curing this terrible disease. Treatments and studies that have been done show promising data in the process of curing or preventing this disease by focusing on the LRRK2 gene alone. If the causes of the neurodegeneration that is the onset of Parkinson’s could be better understood, then maybe a specific treatment can be fabricated to slow, halt or reverse its process (Stanley Fahn, 2006)
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