In the past few decades, understanding of Parkinson’s disease (PD) has greatly increased. Though we don’t fully understand many aspects of PD, there are effective treatments for many symptoms, and numerous therapies in development with the potential to slow, stop or prevent the disease from happening. The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) is funding research into these treatments, running a major research study, and is offering many ways to get involved. With commitment and initiative, you can get involved, help support people with PD, and be part of finding a cure for this disease.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder that happens when brain cells that make a chemical called dopamine stop working or die. Worldwide, an estimated 6 million are diagnosed withPD, and millions more are impacted by the disease through friends and family members. There is currently no cure. Tremors, slow movement, and stiffness are the main symptoms of PD, but many people also experience depression, memory problems, and sleep disorders (link to other article) and other non-movement symptoms. For instance, REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), where people act out their dreams during the REM phase of sleep, can precede other symptoms by years and even decades.
Parkinson’s causes other effects in the brain by interfering with chemical pathways that produce several neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals. Changes in these chemicals might help explain some of the mood and mental health symptoms of PD, such as apathy, depression, and anxiety. Clumps of proteins that build up in the brain, called Lewy bodies, may cause memory problems and dementia.
PD is a lifelong and progressive disease, which means that symptoms slowly worsen over time. However, Parkinson’s is different in every person. Doctors cannot predict which symptoms will affect a person, and how. Treatments for the symptoms of Parkinson’s can help address the many different symptoms that people with PD can have, from motor symptoms to impacts on mood.
The Path to a Cure
Though the first “modern” description of some of these symptoms as a distinct condition was made by English apothecary James Parkinson in 1817, it wasn’t until the 1950s that scientists began to understand some of the key biology of the disease. Since its launch in 2000, The Michael J. Fox Foundation has aimed to be a crucial part of this journey to increased understanding of Parkinson’s, eventually leading to a cure.
Founded by actor Michael J. Fox after he revealed he’d been diagnosed with the disease, the Foundation has funded more than $1.5 billion in Parkinson’s research, becoming the largest non-profit funder of PD drug development. The Foundation has partnered with researchers and the biopharma industry, as well as philanthropists and patients to help fill crucial gaps in the understanding and treatment of PD.
MJFF focuses on treatments that will benefit people and families with Parkinson’s, funding initiatives and research that get treatments to patients quicker. These include funding potential drugs that can stop or slow the progression of the disease and addressing symptoms that have few or no current treatment options. Risk-taking is a part of this strategy—MJFF works to push the most promising research and treatments forward.
You can be a crucial part of the Foundation’s path to a cure. One way to do this is to join a research study, such as the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI). Launched in 2010, the study follows individuals with and without Parkinson’s disease over the course of years, helping researchers to better understand who develops the disease and how the progression of symptoms happens in different people. There are also many types of clinical trials in addition to PPMI you might be able to join, from trials for people with genetic risks of developing PD to newly diagnosed patients and more.
You can also help raise money to fund Parkinson’s research. The Foundation offers various ways to get involved and join their committed community of supporters. Whether you want to join an upcoming MJFF Run/Walk, local DIY Fundraiser, or start your own event—there is something for everyone. And of course, you can also donate directly to the Foundation.
Advocacy is another way of supporting people with PD and working towards a cure. From urging more public funding for PD research to supporting laws that help out caregivers, you can contact your policymakers and stand up for the PD community. MJFF also advocates for its only policy priorities, including galvanizing research on environmental risk factors for Parkinson’s and open access to scientific resources on PD. You can sign up to join the Foundations policy network here. Parkinson’s affects millions and has no cure. But thanks to research, fundraising and advocacy efforts led by organizations like MJFF, you can help change that
Sponsored by The Michael J. Fox Foundation.