Searching for a cure
Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research Senior Associate Director Jennifer Riedel speaks to a full house Thursday at the Red Lion Templin's on the River in Post Falls.
Michael J. Fox Foundation Chief Scientific Officer Mark Frasier talks about alpha-synuclein approaches to understanding Parkinson's disease Thursday during a presentation in Post Falls.
Staff Writer | September 11, 2023 1:08 AM
POST FALLS — New treatments, innovative drugs and a wellspring of possibilities are on the horizon for people living with Parkinson's disease.
Most importantly, there is hope.
Representatives of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research shared that message of hope with over 230 people last week during a presentation Thursday at the Red Lion Hotel Templin's on the River in Post Falls.
"This all started in our living room," said Barb Howell, who organized the event with her husband, Rick Howell, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's eight years ago.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation's Chief Scientific Officer Mark Frasier and Senior Associate Director Jennifer Riedel shared the stage as they spoke to the crowded room about clinical trials, the science behind Parkinson's and the future of Parkinson's research. The foundation was created and named for Hollywood actor Michael J. Fox, who was just 29 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1991.
According to the foundation, Parkinson's occurs when brain cells that make dopamine, a chemical that coordinates movement, stop working or die. It can cause tremors, slowness, stiffness and walking and balance problems. Although it is called a “movement disorder," it can also be accompanied by constipation, depression, memory problems and other non-movement symptoms.
Six million people around the world live with the incurable disease, and 60,000 people will be diagnosed with it this year alone in the U.S., Riedel said.
"We need to ask ourselves at Fox, 'What are we doing to help those individuals on a day-to-day basis?'" she said. "Focusing on motor and non-motor symptoms, pharmacological, so drugs, and non-pharmacological — diet, exercise, meditation, social connection, intervention."
Fox and his team have tirelessly researched this condition through the years, searching for answers to ultimately find a cure.
"One particular approach I'm excited about is the immunotherapy approach," Frasier said. "It's very specific and selective."
He said this approach has shown recent success with Alzheimer's disease.
"That is a real demonstration that in neurology and neurodegenerative disease, these immunotherapies can actually get into the brain, attack the misfolded protein and actually treat the disease," he said.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation has really focused on genetics, Riedel explained. She said 30% of those who have Parkinson's have a genetic predisposition for it.
"But 70% of individuals have sporadic Parkinson's, meaning we are not 100% sure why they went to develop it," she said.
Frasier said that 70% of those who have the sporadic condition may have a genetic contribution that doctors just don't know about yet, which is why more DNA and research is necessary.
"These genetic studies really are uncovering clues about the biology, what is happening, why are people developing Parkinson's disease," he said. "It shines a spotlight on these biological pathways and, specifically, these proteins, these enzymes, these targets that DNA makes these proteins and codes for it — it shines a spotlight on these pathways that go awry in Parkinson's disease."
He said increasingly, evidence shows the same pathways are affected in people who do not carry mutations. This means treatments may work in people with and without mutations.
"These genetic studies are uncovering what we think goes wrong with Parkinson's and identifying these key areas that we can actually target with treatments like immunotherapy or small molecules," Frasier said.