I’m sure you’ve heard about Parkinson’s Disease, but do you actually know what it is or the implications behind it? If you’re like me before I took neurochemistry, the answer is probably no. The only thing I really knew about it was the associated hand tremors.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder that eats away at the nervous system, affecting movement and cognition. Researchers suspect that the accumulation of a certain protein in the brain may be what’s causing the disease. A deep midbrain region called the substantia nigra plays a role in our controlled movements. In people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease, clumps of aggregated proteins have been found here, leading to the idea that these clumps are interfering with the substantia nigra’s ability to function properly.
The specific alleged proteins are called alpha-synuclein. When produced, they are supposed to fold into a certain shape in order to do what they are supposed to do. However, if they are not made correctly and are misfolded, they will stick and clump together, forming plaques called Lewy Bodies. As this is occurring in the substantia nigra in Parkinson’s disease, these plaques are thought to be the culprit for loss of motor control and cognitive function.
Like many other diseases, there aren’t a whole lot of options when it comes to treatments. With complex diseases, it is difficult to find exactly what the source is and how to target it. There are likely many causes! One treatment for Parkinson’s disease, called L-Dopa, is showing positive results. This is basically putting extra dopamine into your brain, which seems to improve control of movements. Symptoms such as hand tremors and rigid movements are therefore reduced in patients. However, after prolonged use, the effects appear to wear off and the drug is no longer helpful.
So my main question is this: why aren’t we talking about Parkinson’s disease? A large percentage of our class had very limited knowledge on the disease, clearly proving that we are not being told anything or partaking in any conversations. As we are about to head into and affect change in the “adult” world, it’s not a good sign for future discoveries if we don’t know anything about the disease were trying to treat.
Apparently for the generation before us, Michael J. Fox has worked diligently as an advocate for research. Fox was an actor, commonly known for playing Marty McFly in the Back to the Future movies from the late 80s. He was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991 and was forced by the symptoms to retire in 2000. He has since been spreading awareness of the disease to attract more donations to fund research. This is great and all… but I think my generation has not been receiving the message. Someone closer to our age needs to step up and take on a similar role that can connect with the millennials. Too soon, we’ll be the ones in charge of making decisions when it comes to funding and research. If we want to make advances in treating Parkinson’s, we need to increase general awareness and instill a passion to eradicate it.