While Parkinson’s disease is still incurable, biotechnology, supported by good policy, offers the promise of better treatments, and perhaps an eventual cure.
“Where we are today, I can say in my lifetime we will find an answer to modify Parkinson’s disease and slow progression and for that, I’m excited and hopeful,” says Dr. Maurizio Facheris, medical director in neuroscience development at AbbVie, a member of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO).
“Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects predominately dopamine-producing (dopaminergic) neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra,” leading to muscular rigidity, tremors, and slowness of movement, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation.
The possibility of defeating the condition in the future through research is the main focus of Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month in April, the Parkinson’s Foundation says.
According to Parkinson’s Foundation data, more than 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease, with new diagnoses expected to rise along with an aging population. Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year; close to 1 million Americans are already living with the disease; and this number is expected to increase to more than 1.2 million by 2030, the Parkinson’s Foundation says.
Stronger advocacy of key importance
While researchers seek to understand the disease, policy advocates, such as those working for the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF), engage lawmakers across the country to “raise awareness in their communities by securing state, city and county proclamations and resolutions.”
MJFF underscores that “public policy is a critical piece to solving the Parkinson’s puzzle” and that “by helping policymakers understand what matters to people with Parkinson’s and sharing your story, you play a critical role in shaping legislation that affects the entire community.”
MJFF’s current public policy priorities cover three key areas: “research, including funding, data collection, access, and environmental risk factors; therapy development and approvals, which covers regulatory funding and the amplification of patients’ needs; and access to care and support services.”
New treatments, new hope
Dr. Facheris of AbbVie says his 20 years of work “in the medical research and treating patients“ is motivated by the “need for continued research and effective treatments.”
“I thought if we could stop those neurons from dying and make them regrow, we could restore their function and, for example, help patients regain control of their movement,” says Dr. Facheris, adding that there has been progress: “Scientists have a better understanding of what’s happening within the proteins of the brain and how they could target them to help slow down the progression of the disease.”
Dr. Theresa Zesiewicz, director of clinical research for University of Southern Florida Health’s Dept. of Neurology, says in an interview with Bay News 9 that “20, 30 years ago, the medication that we had to treat Parkinson’s disease was dopamine.”
Through the years, the treatment of Parkinson’s disease symptoms has come a long way and different types of medications and new procedures have been developed, including deep brain stimulation and focused ultrasound, which can also alleviate symptoms.
“Researchers are trying to find a way to reduce alpha-synuclein, a brain protein linked to Parkinson’s, and to diagnose the disease before symptoms show up,” Zesiewicz says.
Earlier can mean better treatment, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation.