Wednesday, January 24, 2007

PD and The Fox Foundation

Parkinson's disease is a brain disorder that impairs or destroys neurons in the brain. The symptoms of PD include shaking, slowness of movement and difficulty with balance. The National Parkinson Disease Foundation website contains a wealth of information on PD. Here are some of the facts of the disease listed on the website.

What is Parkinson disease?

Parkinson disease is a brain disorder. It occurs when certain nerve cells (neurons) in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra die or become impaired. Normally, these cells produce a vital chemical known as dopamine. Dopamine allows smooth, coordinated function of the body's muscles and movement. When approximately 80% of the dopamine-producing cells are damaged, the symptoms of Parkinson disease appear.

Who gets Parkinson disease?

Parkinson disease affects both men and women in almost equal numbers. It shows no social, ethnic, economic or geographic boundaries. In the United States, it is estimated that 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, joining the 1.5 million Americans who currently have Parkinson disease. While the condition usually develops after the age of 65, 15% of those diagnosed are under 50.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation was established by the actor in 2000 and is dedicated to finding a cure for PD within a decade. I was curious to see learn more about the Foundation and took a look at their website here. They funded nearly $70 million dollars in PD research between 2000-2005. Michael J. Fox has a moving message on the website which captures the challenges the Foundation faces in terms of finding a cure and their determination to employ an effective strategy to overcome these obstacles. Here is Fox's inspiring message:

Welcome and thanks for checking in.

I can pretty much tell the latest news story on the research front by the tone of your letters and emails. Cheerful when there's good news, deflated when we get news that doesn't meet our expectations. It's like a Parkinson's barometer.

As someone with PD, I share the ups and downs, not to mention the ons and the offs. But I'm essentially optimistic and remain convinced that a cure is within reach.

The fact is given the nature of science today, there is so much cutting-edge research being done in so many areas — and so many variables — that it's not always apparent where the next breakthrough will come from. That's why we always use the strategy of betting on several horses at once — you just don't know which one will get fired up in the home stretch and win the race.

With that in mind, the Foundation is pushing ahead on several fronts at once — drug development, cell replacement therapy, genetic discoveries. We are looking for ways around the roadblocks and we're willing to take risks.

So hang in there — we're sure to make it across the finish line.

Thanks again for all of your support.

The latest news update on the Foundation website details their latest effort to help with the laudable aim of finding a cure for PD. Here is a brief excerpt from that update:

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research today announced $4.6 million in total funding to 10 industry research teams under its Therapeutics Development Initiative. The Foundation launched the program in 2006 as a key element in its strategy to ‘de-risk’ preclinical Parkinson’s disease research for biotech and pharmaceutical companies, thus expanding and catalyzing industry investments in the development of improved PD treatments and a cure.

“No matter how much capital a pharmaceutical or biotech company may have, every investment of that capital is a bet — and, by definition, may not pay off,” said Deborah W. Brooks, president and CEO of The Michael J. Fox Foundation. “Our goal with the Therapeutics Development Initiative is to add our resources to companies’ own, making Parkinson’s a more attractive bet and helping to push PD research further out the drug development pipeline toward the clinic and patients.”