Michael J. Fox Supports Parkinson’s Disease Clinical Trials

Michael J. Fox Supports Parkinson’s Disease Clinical Trials

When seemingly larger-than-life celebrities expose their vulnerability and yet also share their goals and dreams, we tend to listen. Although millions of people worldwide support clinical trials every year, sometimes it takes a more prominent voice to get people’s attention, and one of those voices is the Canadian-American actor and activist, Michael J. Fox.

Early career and diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease

Michael J. Fox’s early career kept him in the spotlight, starring in many 80s and 90s films and shows such as ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘Family Ties’. But only months after the release of ‘Back to the Future Part 3’ in 1991, he got a diagnosis that would change his career and life forever. Fox had previously been visiting neurologists and doctors for muscle pains. One had finally called back to inform him: the then-29-year-old had Parkinson’s Disease, a brain disorder that can cause uncontrollable movements such as twitching, stiffness, or difficulty with balance. He hid his disease from the public for fear of losing job opportunities until 1998 when he revealed his diagnosis, shocking friends, family, and fans. Two years later, he began The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease.

Foundation and Research

Since its beginning in 2000, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease has raised more than 1 billion dollars to fund research to treat and cure this disease. "The level of research that is going on is still pretty basic,” said Fox in a 2008 interview about his foundation. “We are not just looking for a cure; we are looking for a cause and different ways to deal with the side effects of medication." This foundation has discovered many important breakthroughs in Parkinson’s research using clinical trials, including a discovery in early April of 2023 that can help improve the detection of Parkinson’s Disease. Specifically, scientists discovered that 93% of people with Parkinson’s had abnormal levels of alpha-synuclein, and just testing humans for this protein can help determine if the disease is present within their body. But the real breakthrough is a new tool used for detecting this protein: it’s called α-synuclein seeding amplification assay (αSyn-SAA) and it can confirm the presence of abnormal alpha-synuclein, which can reveal if a person has PD.

How this assay works is by taking advantage of the processes that happen naturally within patients with Parkinson’s. In affected patients, abnormal alpha-synuclein can begin to clump, damaging neurons and causing the symptoms associated with this disease. αSyn-SAA uses an agent that, when detecting clumped and folded alpha-synuclein, will begin to glow, alerting scientists of an abnormality. If not sensing abnormal alpha-synuclein, the dye will not react. In a clinical test with over 1000 people, 93% of the time the tool would correctly identify patients with the disease. Neurological tests are rarely this accurate, so to say that this is a medical advancement for Parkinson’s Disease is an understatement.

Physical Impact of Parkinson’s Disease

500,000 people have Parkinson's Disease in the US, and 90,000 more get diagnosed each year, making it the most common motor neuron disease. There are more than 6 million people worldwide with this disease. It is a neurological disorder that impacts the nervous system and can affect many aspects of life, even making small things like walking, balancing, and blinking require more effort. Parkinson’s Disease causes part of the brain, the basal ganglia, to deteriorate, causing the affected person to lose the ability to do basic daily activities. This disease can also cause many non-motor-related symptoms, as discovered in recent studies, such as loss of senses and sleep or focus issues. Different states have different rates of Parkinson’s Disease diagnoses, Vermont with the highest, with 9.9 people with Parkinson’s Disease per every 10,000. The cause of Parkinson’s is currently unknown, and experts classify it as an idiopathic disease because it typically has no distinguishable links to genetics or other outside causes. There are certain genetic changes that can cause Parkinson’s disease, but these are uncommon except in rare cases when this disease is passed on in families through generations. Finding a cure for Parkinson’s could be in the near future because of newly discovered information about this disease.

Ongoing trials

There are many Parkinson’s Disease clinical trials currently going on in the United States that could lead to new discoveries about this disease, drawing us closer to a cure. If you are interested in participating in one, you can find available trials in your area by searching using your zip code and what kind of study you want to take part in. If you want to learn more about clinical research, you can sign up to receive notifications about clinical trials in your area.

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