Health Beat - Spring 2020 - 6

HOPE for the Future
Parkinson's disease is on the rise,
but new treatments aim to bring a cure


dvances in science and medicine
have allowed us to live longer,
more fulfilling lives. But with
longer life spans comes a higher risk for
developing debilitating neurological conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, says
Rebecca Gilbert, M.D., Ph.D., chief scientific officer at the American Parkinson
Disease Association. In fact, estimates
show that 1.2 million Americans will be
living with Parkinson's by 2030.
Parkinson's disease is a progressive
neurodegenerative disorder that affects
nerve cells in the brain that help regulate movement. Common symptoms
include tremors, muscle stiffness and
balance problems, though nonmotor
symptoms such as anxiety, depression,
sleep disorders, constipation and urinary incontinence are also possible.
The varied nature of the symptoms
means it's hard to pinpoint the cause of
Parkinson's, which makes treating the
condition complicated.

Current Treatments

New Possibilities
Gilbert says ongoing research has also
produced a variety of new avenues
of treatment, including:

DTreating genetic mutations.

About 10 to 15 percent of Parkinson's
cases are genetic. "If you have a parent
with Parkinson's, your chances of developing the condition are about four times
higher than that of the general population," Gilbert says.
Researchers are studying
the genome to determine
which genetic mutations
are responsible for Parkinson's,
as well as how to treat people with
these mutations.
"It's an exciting body of research,"
Gilbert says. "It suggests a future
where treatment can be tailored
or personalized."

DSaving neurons. Many treatment

options for Parkinson's manage symptoms
but don't slow the death of neurons.
"New agents are constantly being studied in hope of finding one that actually
protects neurons from dying," Gilbert says.
These agents include antioxidants,
which inhibit free radicals that cause cell
damage, and anti-inflammatories, which
reduce and prevent neuron inflammation.

Parkinson's, the cells tend to have
an abnormal accumulation of a protein called alpha-synuclein. In a
healthy brain, the protein's function is
unknown. But in Parkinson's, deposits
of alpha-synuclein can create Lewy
bodies, clumps on the cell that are
associated with neuron death.
To combat this process, medications and vaccines are being
developed to inhibit the buildup

of alpha-synuclein. "If we can
control how alphasynuclein deposits in
cells," Gilbert says,
"we can stem the tide
of the disease." 1

There is no cure for Parkinson's, so
treatment plans focus on management of the condition. Most people
take medications to manage their
motor symptoms, and physical, occupational and speech therapy help them
refine and regain control of their muscle movements.
A surgical procedure called deep brain DPreventing protein buildup in
stimulation might also be recommended
nerve cells. When you look at the
in cases of medication-resistant tremors. neuron structure in people with

If you or a loved one experiences Parkinson's disease,
share your story to raise awareness of the condition at



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Health Beat - Spring 2020

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