About Parkinson's

Please join us in making a difference in the lives of those living with Parkinson's disease (PD). Your support of our Team Fox efforts helps The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research in their work to ensure the development of a cure for Parkinson's disease within this lifetime through an aggressively funded research agenda. More than six million people worldwide are living with Parkinson's disease today. Together we can play a part in the fight to eradicate PD, so one day soon, we'll be able to say that Parkinson's disease is truly nobody's disease.

The Fox Foundation

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research is dedicated to ensuring the development of a cure for Parkinson's disease within this decade through an aggressively funded research agenda.

Enormous progress toward finding a cure has been made on many neurological fronts, and scientists' understanding of the brain and how disease affects it has increased dramatically. The Foundation seeks to hasten progress further by awarding grants that help guarantee that new and innovative research avenues are thoroughly funded and explored.

Actor Michael J. Fox established the Foundation in May 2000 shortly after announcing his retirement from the ABC television show Spin City. In 1998 he publicly disclosed that he had been diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson's disease seven years earlier.

Team Fox is The Michael J. Fox Foundation's grassroots community project raising funds and awareness for Parkinson's research.

What is Parkinson's?

Parkinson's disease is a chronic, progressive disorder of the central nervous system that belongs to a group of conditions called motor system disorders. Parkinson's is the direct result of the loss of cells in a section of the brain called the substantia nigra. Those cells produce dopamine, a chemical messenger responsible for transmitting signals within the brain. Loss of dopamine causes critical nerve cells in the brain, or neurons, to fire out of control, leaving patients unable to direct or control their movement in a normal manner.

Parkinson's disease has been known since ancient times. An English doctor, James Parkinson, first described it extensively in 1817; the thoroughness of his analysis is such that researchers and clinicians are still urged to read his original notes on the condition.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of Parkinson's, which often appear gradually yet with increasing severity, may include tremors or trembling; difficulty maintaining balance and gait; rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; and general slowness of movement (also called bradykinesia). Patients may also eventually have difficulty walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks. Because Parkinson's has a wide range of early symptoms that are similar to other neurological conditions, diagnosis is often difficult unless the clinician has experience in the field.

The course of Parkinson's varies substantially. Some patients have relatively few troublesome symptoms for many years, while others have especially severe cases that leave them with little or no mobility in just a few years.

What causes Parkinson's?

Scientists have not yet found the exact cause of Parkinson's disease. Most believe that it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors, but no definitive data exist.

Who gets Parkinson's?

It is currently impossible to predict who will get Parkinson's disease or to prevent it from occurring. In general, both men and women are affected equally and symptoms first appear, on average, when a patient is older than 50. At least one million people in the United States are estimated to have Parkinson's; many of them, perhaps half, are thought to be undiagnosed.

A subset of Parkinson's called young-onset Parkinson's affects those under age 40. Although the condition is clinically the same, treatment options may differ.

The exact role of heredity in Parkinson's disease is not clear. There are relatively few families in which known genetic mutations cause the disease, but there are many more where the disease somehow "runs in the family." Most cases of Parkinson's are believed to result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

What's the status of research into a cure?

Scientists' understanding of how the brain works has greatly increased in recent years, leading many observers to believe that a cure for Parkinson's and similar neurodegenerative diseases may be imminent. Others are more cautious, pointing out that even the most promising therapies will require several years of clinical trials and other studies to ensure safety and effectiveness. There is little doubt, however, that increased research (which can only be achieved through increased funding, both public and private) will hasten the discovery of a cure or therapies that can halt the diseases' progression. It is impossible to estimate when that will happen.

The most controversial research avenue currently being explored is based on so-called embryonic stem cells, which are undifferentiated cells derived from days-old embryos. Most of these embryos are the product of in vitro fertilization efforts. Researchers believe that they may be able to prompt these cells, which can theoretically be manipulated into a building block of any of the body's tissues, to replace those lost during the diseases' progression.

Similarly, there is hope that so-called adult stem cells, which are harvested from bone marrow, may be manipulated to work the same way. Fewer ethical questions surround this sort of research, but some scientists believe that adult stem cells may be more difficult to work with than those from embryos. Either way, the scientific community is nearly unanimous in arguing that their research efforts would be severely hampered if they were not allowed to work on all forms of stem cells.

Human studies of so-called neurotrophic factors are also now under way. In animal studies, this family of proteins has revived dormant brain cells, caused them to produce dopamine, and prompted dramatic improvement of symptoms.

Some scientists are analyzing the potential role of genetic and environmental factors in causing Parkinson's. Significant progress in discovering what causes Parkinson's disease will open an entirely new vein of intensive research into curing the condition.

Find this and more information at www.michaeljfox.org

*The medical information contained in this Web site is for general information purposes only. Expedition Cure has a policy of refraining from advocating, endorsing or promoting any drug therapy, course of treatment, or specific company or institution. Expedition Cure strongly recommends that care and treatment decisions related to Parkinson's disease and any other medical condition be made in consultation with a patient's physician or other qualified medical professionals.