Category Archives: Hope

Effect of Forgiveness on Health

“When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.”  Bernard Meltzer

“The first step in forgiveness is the willingness to forgive.” Marianne Williamson

Précis: Recently had a friend go through a difficult break-up from a marriage. The notion of getting past the failed relationship, achieving forgiveness, and moving on without causing illness was of paramount importance. The implications of forgiveness/unforgiveness as it relates to health-illness crossed my mind. It started with assembling the quotes in this post. Next, I did a Google Scholar search for “forgiveness and health” and discovered a whole new area of psychology-science-medicine (well, it was new to me). Most of us would agree that forgiving yourself promotes wellness; whereas remaining unforgiven could disrupt your mental and possibly even your physical health.  This post reviews forgiveness and its positive impact on our health.

“Forgiveness is really a gift to yourself – have the compassion to forgive others, and the courage to forgive yourself.” Mary Anne Radmach

Forgiveness and Health: The Oxford dictionary defines ‘forgive’ as to stop feeling angry and resentful towards (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.  Positive psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. Forgiveness is a big part of positive psychology regarding both physical and mental well-being.   Over the past 15 years, researchers have focused on 2 primary hypotheses: (1) forgiveness has important connections to physical health; and (2) this relationship is guided by an association between lack of forgiveness and anger.  Evidently, there is consensus in the field that these two primary processes form the basis of forgiveness: (i) letting go of one’s right to resentment and negative judgment; and (ii) fostering undeserved compassion and generosity toward the perpetrator.  The first process implies a person would reduce their negative emotions (i.e., anger and revenge); while  the second process involves increasing positive feelings and might even include reconciliation. Collectively, there is growing scientific evidence that links the positivity of forgiveness and health.

“He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The more you know yourself, the more you forgive yourself.” Confucius

Forgiveness vs. Unforgiveness: It is probably apparent (to you) that forgiveness is generally associated with improved mental and physical health, as opposed to someone unable/unwilling to forgive.  Modeling the relationship between forgiveness and health, based on the hypothesis that forgiveness reduces hostility (and this would be considered healthier), 6 paths linking forgiveness and health have been described: (i) decrease in chronic blaming and anger; (ii) reduction in chronic hyper-arousal [“a state of increased psychological and physiological tension marked by such effects as reduced pain tolerance, anxiety, exaggeration of startle responses, insomnia, fatigue and accentuation of personality traits.”]; (iii) optimistic thinking; (iv) self-efficacy to take health-related actions; (v) social support; and (vi) transcendent consciousness (“state achieved through the practice of transcendental meditation in which the individual’s mind transcends all mental activity to experience the simplest form of awareness“).

What does this mean? The majority of studies on forgiveness indicate a reciprocal relationship to hostility, anger, anxiety and depression.  Forgiveness may directly alter sympathetic reactivity, which is often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response. These responses include increases in heart rate, blood pressure, cardiac contractility, and cortisol.  This implies that unforgiveness could promote an acute, stress-induced reactivity that could be associated with general health problems.  However, it is much more complicated than this simplistic flow of events: anger is a component of unforgiveness; anger is a health risk; therefore, unforgiveness is a health risk.  This is really interesting reading but way beyond my training as a protein biochemist (If interested, look over the references listed below)

Forgiveness and Mental Health: Let’s take a different angle by looking at mental health. We begin with unforgiveness as being associated with stress from an ‘interpersonal’ offense and stress is associated with diminished mental health. Furthermore, unforgiveness due to an ‘intrapersonal’ wrongdoing may lead to shame, regret and guilt, which could also negatively affect mental health. The positive impact of forgiveness may help correct the downturn in mental health that resulted from either interpersonal or intrapersonal stress.  In many instances, mental health is linked to physical health. This suggests that practicing forgiveness would positively influence mental health and could therein bolster physical health.

To summarize the ability of forgiveness to bolster mental health, I have re-drawn the figure from Toussaint and Webb  (2005) as a 4-piece puzzle. It begins with the ‘direct effect’ of forgiveness as told through unforgiveness with emotions of resentment, bitterness, hatred, residual hostility, and fear. The negative emotions of unforgiveness could contribute significantly to mental health problems.  By contrast, the emotion of forgiveness is positive and strong and love-based that could improve mental health. The ‘indirect effect’ of forgiveness through social support, interpersonal behavior and health behavior are all positively-linked to good mental health. The ‘developmental stage’ describes the recognition of the problem, need for an alternative solution, and ultimately the effect of forgiveness augments mental health.  The final piece to the puzzle is the ‘attributional process’, which suggests that being able to forgive bolsters personal control of one’s life, which is perceived to be positive.  By contrast, unforgiveness blocks this life-controlling process by consumptive negative emotions made worse in the individual through rumination.  Due to my own internal word limit and time-period to read/understand the topic, I have not included the religious or spiritual basis of the forgiveness of God, feeling God’s forgiveness, and seeking God’s forgiveness in the narrative of this post.  For many people, these would be integral components to the discussion here on forgiveness and its overall impact on both mental and physical health.

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“I don’t know if I continue, even today, always liking myself. But what I learned to do many years ago was to forgive myself. It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes- it is inevitable. But once you do and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say, ‘Well, if I’d known better I’d have done better,’ that’s all.” Maya Angelou

9 Steps to Forgiveness (Fred Luskin, LearningToForgive.com): Dr. Luskin is a noted-researcher in the field of forgiveness. His belief is that by practicing forgiveness, your anger, hurt, depression and stress will all be reduced and it will increase feelings of hope, compassion and self confidence. Furthermore, he believes that practicing forgiveness contributes to healthy relationships and to improved physical health; here are the 9 steps to forgiveness:

  1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.
  2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.
  3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the “peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.”
  4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years – ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.
  5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s flight or fight response.
  6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize the “unenforceable rules” you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.
  7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.
  8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.
  9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.

“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.” Lewis B. Smedes

Forgiveness in the Presence of Parkinson’s:  Receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s, a lifelong chronic progressive neurodegenerative disorder is a real shock.  The diagnosis comes with a variety of emotions. After a while, acceptance takes over; no, not your identify, just ok, I’ve got Parkinson’s, live through it, make the most of this experience. Eventually I had to put forgiveness into part of this living-life-equation. There were two self-involved events where I might have contributed to the development of my own disease.  The first was as a young boy in the summertime riding my bicycle behind the DDT trucks spraying for mosquitoes on our Air Force bases [Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) is a colorless, tasteless, and almost odorless crystalline organochlorine known for its insecticidal properties]. DDT is one of the known chemical inducers of Parkinson’s. Second, in graduate school before OSHA took over regulating lab safety, I routinely used many different noxious compounds for the benefit of science and for the completion of my PhD. Both events caused me to pause and ponder; however, I decided to forgive myself. I truly believe had I remained unforgiving, I would have paved a path of ill health.

This whole process of dealing with the emotion from diagnosis to acceptance (and forgiveness) of Parkinson’s reminds me of the opening verse of “We Are The Champions” by Queen: “I paid my dues/ time after time./ I’ve done my sentence/ but committed no crime./ And bad mistakes-/ I’ve made a few./ I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face/ but I’ve come through./  (And I need to go on and on, and on, and on)

The vast majority of people with Parkinson’s are 60-years of age or older (although there is a group of early-age-onset). Interestingly, in a recent study with an elderly population, forgiveness showed positive and significant association with mental and physical health.

“You cannot travel back in time to fix your mistakes, but you can learn from them and forgive yourself for not knowing better.” Leon Brown

“Accept the past as past, without denying it or discarding it.” Mitch Albom

Forgive Ourselves: Dr. Elaine in her post “The-healing-power-of-forgiveness” nicely summarized self-forgiveness: “We tend to believe that forgiveness supports the transgression that has been committed against us. But forgiveness is not an endorsement of wrongdoing; rather, it’s an act of releasing the pain and hurt it caused through love, the root of forgiveness—and it is not love of the other but of the self. We must forgive ourselves as well as others in order to be whole and healed.”

Effect of Forgiveness on Health: The sum total of our health is a complex formula that differs slightly for each one of us.  Those of us with a progressive neurodegenerative disorder like Parkinson’s increases the complexity of this life-equation.  Thus, dealing with the axis defined by forgiveness/unforgiveness in the matter of health (both mental and physical) clearly could complicate our health.  Truly we need to add forgiveness as a filter to our life-lens; the benefits from this addition should favor our health in the long-run.

“If we all hold on to the mistake, we can’t see our own glory in the mirror because we have the mistake between our faces and the mirror; we can’t see what we’re capable of being. You can ask forgiveness of others, but in the end the real forgiveness is in one’s own self.” Maya Angelou

Cover photo credit: https://orig05.deviantart.net/0a42/f/2015/095/1/6/painted_wallpaper___fog_on_lake_by_dasflon-d8oiudk

Useful References:

Lawler KA, Younger JW, Piferi RL, Jobe RL, Edmondson KA, Jones WH. The Unique Effects of Forgiveness on Health: An Exploration of Pathways. Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2005;28(2):157-67. doi: 10.1007/s10865-005-3665-2.

Akhtar, S., Dolan, A., & Barlow, J. (2017). Understanding the Relationship Between State Forgiveness and Psychological Wellbeing: A Qualitative Study. Journal of Religion and Health, 56(2), 450–463. http://doi.org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/10.1007/s10943-016-0188-9

Lawler-Row KA, Karremans JC, Scott C, Edlis-Matityahou M, Edwards L. Forgiveness, physiological reactivity and health: The role of anger. International Journal of Psychophysiology. 2008;68(1):51-8. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2008.01.001.

Rey L, Extremera N. Forgiveness and health-related quality of life in older people: Adaptive cognitive emotion regulation strategies as mediators. Journal of Health Psychology. 2016;21(12):2944-54. doi: 10.1177/1359105315589393. PubMed PMID: 26113528.

Toussaint, L., J.R. Webb.  Theoretical and empirical connections between forgiveness, mental health, and well-being E.L. Worthington Jr (Ed.), Handbook of forgiveness, Brunner–Routledge, New York (2005), pp. 207-226

 

 

 

 

Parkinson’s Disease Research: A Commentary from the Stands and the Playing Field

“You can have a very bad end with Parkinson’s, but on the other hand, you can be like me, because I’m lucky. I’m not having a bad end.” Margo MacDonald

“My age makes me think how valuable life is. How bad is something like Parkinson’s in relation to not having life at all?” Michael J. Fox

Introduction: Last month, together with Dr. Simon Stott and his team of scientists (The Science of Parkinson’s Disease), we co-published a historical timeline of Parkinson’s disease beginning with the description of the ‘shaking palsy’ from James Parkinson in 1817. My post entitled “Milestones in Parkinson’s Disease Research and Discovery” can be read here (click this link). The Science of Parkinson’s Disease post entitled “Milestones in Parkinson’s Disease Research and Discovery” can be read here (click this link).

We spent a lot of time compiling and describing what we felt were some of the most substantial findings during the past 200 years regarding Parkinson’s disease.  I learned a lot; truly amazing what has been accomplished in our understanding of  such a complex and unique disorder.  Simon posted a follow-up note entitled “Editorial: Putting 200 years into context” (click this link). I have decided to also post a commentary from the standpoint of (i) being someone with Parkinson’s and (ii) being a research scientist.

“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” Babe Ruth

Baseball: I want to use the analogy of a baseball game to help organize my commentary. Baseball fans sit in the stands and have fun watching the game, thinking about the strategy behind the game, eating/drinking, and sharing the experience with family/friends/colleagues.   Most baseball players begin playing early in life and the ultimate achievement would be to reach the major leagues. And this would usually have taken many years of advancing through different levels of experience on the part of the ballplayer. How does how this analogy work for me in this blog? Stands: I am a person-with-Parkinson’s watching the progress to treat and/or cure this disorder. Playing field: I am a research scientist in a medical school (click here to view my training/credentials).

“Never allow the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game!”  Babe Ruth

Observation from the stands:
I am a spectator like everyone else with Parkinson’s. I read much of the literature available online.  Like you, I think about my disorder; I think about how it’s affecting me every day of my life. Yes, I want a cure for this disease.  Yes, I’m rather impatient too.  I understand the angst and anxiety out there with many of the people with Parkinson’s. In reality, I would not be writing this blog if I didn’t have Parkinson’s. Therefore, I truly sense your frustration that you feel in the presence of Parkinson’s, I do understand.  Given below are examples of various organizations and ads and billboards in support of finding a cure for Parkinson’s.  Some even suggest that a cure must come soon.   However, the rest of my post is going to be dedicated to trying to explain why it’s taking so long; why I am optimistic and positive a cure and better treatment options are going to happen.  And it is partly based on the fact that there really are some amazing people working to cure Parkinson’s and to advance our understanding of this disorder.

“When you come to a fork in the road take it.” Yogi Berra

Observations from the playing field (NIH, war on cancer, research lab, and advancing to a cure for Parkinson’s):

National Institutes of Health (NIH) and biomedical research in the USA: Part of what you have to understand, in the United States at least, is that a large portion of biomedical research is funded by the NIH (and other federally-dependent organizations), which receives a budget from Congress (and the taxpayers). What does it mean for someone with Parkinson’s compared to someone with cancer or diabetes? The amount of federal funds committed to the many diseases studied by NIH-funded-researchers are partly divvied up by the number of people affected. I have prepared a table from the NIH giving the amount of money over the past few years for the top four neurodegenerative disorders, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and Huntington’s Disease, respectively [taken from “Estimates of Funding for Various Research, Condition, and Disease Categories” (click here)]. And this is compared to cancer and coronary arterial disease and a few other major diseases. Without going into the private organizations that fund research, a large amount of money comes from the NIH. Unfortunately, from 2003-2015, the NIH lost >20% of its budget for funding research (due to budget cuts, sequestration, and inflationary losses; click here to read further).   Therefore,  it is not an overstatement to say getting  funded today by the NIH is fiercely competitive.  From 1986 to 2015, my lab group was supported by several NIH grants and fellowships  (and we also received funding from the American Heart Association and Komen for the Cure).

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“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.” Yogi Berra

War against cancer: In 1971, Pres. Richard Nixon declared war against cancer and Congress passed the National Cancer Act.  This created a new national mandate “to support research and application of the results of research to reduce the incident, morbidity, and mortality from cancer.” Today, cancer is still the second leading cause of death in the USA; however, we’ve come such a long way to improving this statistic from when the Cancer Act was initiated.

Scientifically, in the 1970’s, we were just learning about oncogenes and the whole field of molecular biology was really in its infancy. We had not even started sequencing the human genome, or even of any organism.  We discovered genes that could either promote or suppress cellular growth.   We began to delineate the whole system of cell signaling and communications with both normal and malignant cells. We now know there are certain risk factors that allow us to identify people that may have increased risk for certain cancers. Importantly,  we came to realize that not all cancers were alike,  and it offered the notion to design treatment strategies for each individual cancer.  For example,  we now have very high cure rates for childhood acute leukemia and Hodgkin’s lymphoma and we have significantly improved survival statistics for women with breast cancer. Many might say this was a boondoggle and that we wasted billions of dollars  funding basic biomedical research on cancer; however, basic  biomedical research is expensive and translating that into clinical applications is even more expensive.  [ For a  very nice short review on cancer research please see the following article, it may be freely accessible by now: DeVita Jr, Vincent T., and Steven A. Rosenberg. “Two hundred years of cancer research.” New England Journal of Medicine 366.23 (2012): 2207-2214.]

“One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every once in a while you come into a situation where you want to, and where you have to, reach down and prove something.” Nolan Ryan

The biomedical research laboratory environment:  A typical laboratory group setting is depicted in the drawing below. The research lab usually consists of the lead scientist who has the idea to study a research topic, getting grants funded and in recruiting a lab group to fulfill the goals of the project.  Depending on the philosophy of the project leader the lab may resemble very much like the schematic below or may be altered to have primarily technicians or senior postdoctoral fellows working in the lab  (as two alternative formats). A big part of academic research laboratories is education and training the students and postdocs to go on to advance their own careers; then you replace the people that have left and you continue your own research.  Since forming my own lab group in 1986, I have helped train over 100 scientists in the research laboratory: 17 graduate students, 12 postdoctoral fellows, 17 medical students, and 64 undergraduates. The lab has been as large as 10 people and a small as it is currently is now with two people. People come to your lab group because they like what you’re doing scientifically and this is where they want to belong for their own further training and advancement.  This description is for an academic research  laboratory; and  I should also emphasize that many people get trained in federal government-supported organizations, private Pharma and other types of research environments that may differ in their laboratory structure and organizational format.

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“Hitting is 50% above the shoulders.” Ted Williams

 In search of the cure for Parkinson’s:    First, I understand the situation you’re in with Parkinson’s because I’m living through the same situation.   But when people find out I’m a research scientist they always wonder why aren’t we doing more to find a cure, and I  hear the sighs of frustration and I see the anxiety in their faces. Second, the previous three sections are not meant to be an excuse for why there is still no cure for Parkinson’s. It is presented in the reality of what biomedical research scientists must undergo to study a topic.  Third, the experiments that take place in basic biomedical research laboratory may happen over weeks to months if successful. Taking that laboratory data to the clinic and further takes months and years to succeed if at all.   The section on cancer reminds me a lot of where we are going with Parkinson’s and trying to advance new paradigms in the treatment and curative strategies.  Professionally, I have even decided  to pursue research funding in the area of Parkinson’s disease.   Why not spend the rest of my academic career studying my own disease; in the least I can help educate others about this disorder. Furthermore, I can assure you from my reading and meeting people over the last couple of years, there are many hundreds of scientists and clinicians throughout this world studying Parkinson’s and trying to advance our understanding and derive a cure.  I see their devotion, I see their commitment to helping cure our disorder.

The science behind Parkinson’s is quite complicated. These complications suggest that Parkinson’s may be more of a syndrome rather than a disease. Instead of a one-size-fits-all like a disease would be classified; Parkinson’s as a syndrome would be a group of symptoms which consistently occur together.  What this might imply is that some treatment strategy might work remarkably well on some patients but have no effect on others. However, without a detailed understanding and advancement of what Parkinson’s really is we will never reach the stage where we can cure this disorder.

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In a recent blog from the Science of Parkinson’s disease, Simon nicely summarized all the current research in 2017 in Parkinson’s disease (click here to read this post). To briefly summarize what he said is that there are multiple big Pharma collaborations occurring to study Parkinson’s.  There are more than 20 clinical trials currently being done in various stages of completion to prevent disease progression but also to try to cure the disorder.  From a search of the literature, there are literally hundreds of research projects going on that promise to advance our understanding of this disorder. With the last point, it still will take time to happen. Finally, I am a realist but I’m also optimistic and positive that we’re making incredible movement toward much better therapies, which will eventually lead to curative options for Parkinson’s.

And a final analogy to baseball and Parkinson’s, as Tommy Lasorda said “There are three types of baseball players: those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happens.”  I really want to be one of those scientists that help make it happen (or at least to help advance our understanding of the disorder).

“You can’t expect life to play fair with your heart or your brain or your health. That’s not the nature of the game we call life. You have to recognize the nature of the game and know that you can do your best to make the right choices, but life if going to do whatever the hell it pleases to you anyway. All you can control is how you react to whatever life throws at you. You can shut down or you can soar.” Holly Nicole Hoxter

Cover photo credit: PNC Park photo: i.imgur.com/32RWncK

Sign post scienceofparkinsons.com/

“Go the Distance” With MAO-B Inhibitors: Potential Long-term Benefits in Parkinson’s

“Life is 10 percent what you make it, and 90 percent how you take it.” Irving Berlin

“My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.” Michael Jordan

Précis:  (1) A brief review of the major classes of therapeutic compounds for treating Parkinson’s. (2) Defining clinical trials.  (3) Hauser et al.(Journal of Parkinson’s Disease vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 117-127, 2017) report that Parkinson’s patients who received an MAO-B inhibitor for a long period of time had statistically significant slower decline in their symptoms compared to patients not on an MAO-B inhibitor (click here to see paper). (4) Addendum: “New Kid In Town”, The FDA approves another MAO-B inhibitor named Xadago (safinamide). 

Pharmacological treatment of Parkinson’s [Please note that these views and opinions expressed here are my own. Content presented here is not meant as medical advice. Definitely consult with your physician before taking any type of drug.]: The management of Parkinson’s is broadly divided up into motor and non-motor therapy.  A brief description of the therapy for motor dysfunction will be presented here.  Please see the drawing below for an overview.   Within the framework of treating someone with Parkinson’s you must consider managing their symptoms with the hope that some compound might possess either  neuroprotective or neurorestorative actions. To date, we do not have a cure for Parkinson’s but the study described below suggests an existing compound may be neuroprotective when used for a long  time.

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“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” John Wooden

Medical management of the motor-related symptoms of Parkinson’s:

Levodopa, together with carbidopa, is the ‘gold standard’ of treatment of motor signs and symptoms. Carbidopa is  a peripheral decarboxylase inhibitor (PDI), which provides for an increased uptake of levodopa in the central nervous system. As shown above, levodopa (denoted as L-DOPA) is converted to dopamine by the dopaminergic neurons. Levodopa is still the most effective drug for managing Parkinson’s motor signs and symptoms. Over time, levodopa use is associated with issues of “wearing-off” (motor fluctuation) and dyskinesia.  For further information about levodopa and dopamine, please see this previously posted topic (click here).

Catechol-O-methyl transferase (COMT) inhibitors prolong the half-life of levodopa by blocking its metabolism. COMT inhibitors are used primarily to help with the problem of the ‘wearing-off’ phenomenon associated with levodopa.

Dopamine agonists are ‘mimics’ of dopamine that pass through the blood brain barrier to interact with target dopamine receptors. Dopamine agonists provide symptomatic benefit and delay the development of dyskinesia compared to levodopa.  Dopamine agonists are not without their own side-effects, which can occur in some patients, and include sudden-onset sleep, hallucinations, edema, and impulse  behavior disorders.  For more information about dopamine agonists,  please see this previously posted (click here).

Finally, monoamine oxidase (MAO)-B is an enzyme that destroys dopamine; thus, MAO-B inhibitors help prevent the destruction of dopamine in the brain. MAO-B inhibitors have some ability to reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s. The most common severe side effects of MAO-B inhibitors include constipation, nausea, lightheadedness, confusion, and hallucinations.  There may also be contraindications between MAO-B inhibitors with other prescription medications,  vitamins, and certain foods/drinks (e.g., aged cheese and wine). Definitely talk to your doctor and pharmacist about potential drug interactions if you are considering an MAO-B inhibitor in your therapeutic regimen.

“You should just do the right thing.” Dean Smith

What are clinical trials? The simple description is that a clinical trial determines if a new test or treatment works and is safe. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines a clinical trial (paraphrased here) as a research study where human subjects are prospectively assigned1 to one or more interventions2 (which may include placebo or other control) to evaluate the effects of those interventions on health-related biomedical or behavioral outcomes.[1The term “prospectively assigned” refers to a predefined process (e.g., randomization) in an approved protocol that stipulates the assignment of research subjects (individually or in clusters) to one or more arms (e.g., intervention, placebo, or other control) of a clinical trial.2An intervention is defined as a manipulation of the subject or subject’s environment for the purpose of modifying one or more health-related biomedical or behavioral processes and/or endpoints.  3Health-related biomedical or behavioral outcome is defined as the prespecified goal(s) or condition(s) that reflect the effect of one or more interventions on human subjects’ biomedical or behavioral status or quality of life.]  For the complete NIH definition, please click here.

As described by ‘ClinicalTrials.gov’, clinical trials are performed in phases; each phase attempts to answer a separate research question. Phase I: Researchers test a new drug or treatment in a small group of people for the first time to evaluate its safety, determine a safe dosage range, and identify side effects. Phase II: The drug or treatment is given to a larger group of people to see if it is effective and to further evaluate its safety.Phase III:  The drug or treatment is given to large groups of people to confirm its effectiveness, monitor side effects, compare it to commonly used treatments, and collect information that will allow the drug or treatment to be used safely. Phase IV: Studies are done after the drug or treatment has been marketed to gather information on the drug’s effect in various populations and any side effects associated with long-term use. A more complete description is included here (click here).

What is important to remember is that clinical trials are experiments with unknown outcomes that must follow a rigorous approach to safely evaluate and possibly validate potential treatments.

“Nothing has ever been accomplished in any walk of life without enthusiasm, without motivation, and without perseverance.” Jim Valvano

NET-PD-LS1 clinical trial went bust on creatine use in treating Parkinson’s: The NET-PD-LS1 clinical trial went from March 2007 until July 2013. NET-PD-LS1 was a multicenter, double blind, placebo-controlled trial of 1741 people with early Parkinson’s. The goal of NET-PD-LS1 was to determine if creatine could slow long-term clinical progression of Parkinson’s (to learn more about this clinical trial go here or go here) . NET-PD-LS1 was one of the largest and longest clinical trials  on Parkinson’s . This clinical trial was stopped after determining there was no benefit to using creatine to treat Parkinson’s.

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” John Wooden

NET-PD-LS1 clinical trial gets a ‘gold star’ for MAO-B inhibitors in treating Parkinson’s: NET-PD-LS1 was  a thorough and well organized clinical trial.  New results have been published in a secondary analysis of the clinical trial to determine if MAO-B inhibitors for an extended time affected the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Almost half (784) of the patients in NET-PD-LS1 took an MAO-B inhibitor. The MAO-B inhibitors used in NET-PD-LS1 were Rasagiline (Brand name Azilect) and Selegiline (Brand names Eldepryl, Zelapar, or EMSAM).  More than 1600 of the patient’s completed both baseline and one year evaluation/assessment measuring changes in their symptoms (this was done using a combination of five different measurement scales/systems).  Their results were exciting; the patients that were taking an MAO-B inhibitor for a longer time (1 year) had a slower clinical decline (~20% benefit in the magnitude of the decline compared to the patients not taking an MAO-B inhibitor).  These results indicate that MAO-B inhibitors  somehow are able to slow the progression of the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

“Always look at what you have left. Never look at what you have lost.” Robert H. Schuller

Does this prove that MAO-B inhibitors are neuroprotective in Parkinson’s?   The hopeful person inside of me  wants this answer to be yes; however, the scientist that also resides inside of me says no not quite yet.  The goal of neuroprotection is to slow or block or reverse progression of Parkinson’s; and by measuring changes in dopamine-producing neurons.  Early basic science results with MAO-B inhibitors found some neuroprotection in model systems. This new publication reignites the storyline that MAO-B inhibitors are potentially neuroprotective.

“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” John F. Kennedy

A personal reflection about the strategy for treatment of Parkinson’s: MAO-B inhibitors have never been part of my strategy for treating my disorder. I have been using a traditional drug therapy  protocol [Sinemet and Ropinirole] (click here),  supplemented by a  relatively comprehensive CAM approach (click here), bolstered hopefully by a neuroprotective (experimental) agent [Isradipine] (click here), and fortified with as much exercise in my day that my life can handle (click here).  However, there is a constant and dynamic flux/flow of ideas regarding treatment options for Parkinson’s. Thus,  my strategy for treating my disorder needs to be fluid and not fixed in stone. Over the next few weeks, I will be reading more about MAO-B inhibitors, having some serious conversations with my Neurologist and Internist,  with my care partner assessing the risk and benefits of taking an MAO-B inhibitor, and coming up with a consensus team opinion about whether or not I should start taking an MAO-B inhibitor.

Addendum- FDA Approves Xadago for Parkinson’s Disease:
As the Eagles sing in New Kid In Town, “There’s talk on the street; it sounds so familiar / Great expectations, everybody’s watching you”. The first new drug in a decade to treat Parkinson’s is an MAO-B inhibitor named Xadago (Safinamide).  This drug has an interesting past with the FDA before getting approved this week. Is it different? Xadago is for patients using levodopa/carbidopa that are experiencing troublesome “off episodes”, where their symptoms return despite taking their medication. Thus, Xadago is being marketed as an add-on therapy, which is different than existing MAO-B inhibitors because they can be used as stand alone monotherapy. In two separate clinical trials for safety and efficacy of Xadago, compared to patients taking placebo, those taking Xadago showed more “on” time and less “off” time. Interestingly, this is exactly what you’d expect for an MAO-B inhibitor  (sustaining dopamine, see drawing above).  The most common adverse side-effects reported were uncontrolled involuntary movement (side-note: isn’t this what we’re trying to prevent in the first place?), falls, nausea, and insomnia. Clearly, taking Xadago with another MAO-B inhibitor would not be good. Xadago joins a list of other MAO-B inhibitors that are FDA approved for Parkinson’s including Selegiline (Eldepryl, Zelapar, EMSAM) and Rasagiline (Azilect). Whether the efficacy of Xadago is different or improved from existing MAO-B inhibitors remains to be shown; however, having another MAO-B inhibitor may allow Parkinson’s patients the possibility to use the one with the least adverse reactions.  Clearly, close consultation with your Neurologist will be very important before adding any MAO-B inhibitor to your daily arsenal of drugs.  The good news is now you’ve got another option to join the stable of possible MAO-B inhibitors to be used with levodopa/carbidopa.

For the background/rationale behind using “Go the distance” in the title, watch this video clip: Field of Dreams (3/9) Movie CLIP – Go the Distance (1989) HD by Movieclips  (click here to watch Go the Distance).

“Only the mediocre are always at their best. If your standards are low, it is easy to meet those standards every single day, every single year. But if your standard is to be the best, there will be days when you fall short of that goal. It is okay to not win every game. The only problem would be if you allow a loss or a failure to change your standards. Keep your standards intact, keep the bar set high, and continue to try your very best every day to meet those standards. If you do that, you can always be proud of the work that you do.” Mike Krzyzewski

Cover photo image: https://img1.10bestmedia.com/Images/Photos/304499/Pier-orange-sky-compressed_54_990x660.jpg

Dopamine neurons for the drawing wermodified from http://www.utsa.edu/today/images/graphics/dopamine.jpg

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200 Years Ago James Parkinson published “An Essay On The Shaking Palsy”

“I have a form of Parkinson’s disease, which I don’t like. My legs don’t move when my brain tells them to. It’s very frustrating.” George H.W. Bush

“I discovered that I was part of a Parkinson’s community with similar experiences and similar questions that I’d been dealing with alone.” Michael J. Fox

Summary: Two hundred years ago in 1817, Dr. James Parkinson published “An Essay On The Shaking Palsy”, which was the first medical document to fully describe Parkinson’s disease  (please click here to read a full-length version of Parkinson’s essay). A short synopsis of the essay and his life are included here.

James Parkinson and his essay from 1817

Who was James Parkinson?   I’ve read several review articles about Dr. Parkinson,  and it is clear to me he was a very intelligent, passionate and compassionate person: “James Parkinson (1755–1824) worked as a general practitioner in the semi-urban hamlet of Hoxton, north east of the City of London, where he had been born, and where he lived all his life. The historian Roy Porter considered Parkinson a man ‘with impeccably enlightened credentials,’ a doctor with a highly developed empiricist bent, committed to observation and recording of the human and natural worlds, and faithful to social and political ideals including widening of the franchise and improvements in the material conditions of the majority of people. In addition to his daily work in general practice, James Parkinson was a public health reformer, an advocate of infection control in London workhouses, a medical attendant to a Hoxton madhouse, a writer of political pamphlets and children’s stories, a geologist and fossilist, and the author of a textbook of chemistry.” ( click here to read the full citation)

Review about Dr. Parkinson: (click here to read article), Morris, AD (April 1955). “James Parkinson, born April 11, 1755”. Lancet. 268 (6867): 761–3. PMID 14368866.

Title page to the essay: (click here for a nice historical perspective of Parkinson’s disease). Publication: Parkinson J. 1817. An essay on the shaking palsy. Whittingham and Rowland for Sherwood, Needly and Jones, London. .

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The Essay: Much has been written about the essay composed by Dr. Parkinson. Simply stated it is remarkably accurate in its depiction of Parkinson’s disease, which he called shaking palsy.   My goal in this post is not to exhaustively review his essay;  however, after reading this overview I hope you decide to read the essay. (Click here to read a full-length version of Parkinson’s essay).

 Definition of a new disease:  Dr. Parkinson described it as a disease that had an “Involuntary tremulous motion, with lessened muscular power, in parts not in action and even when supported; with a propensity to bend the trunk forwards, and to pass from a walking to a running pace: the senses and intellects being uninjured.”   We know today that there are both motor and non-motor issues involved with Parkinson’s.

Knowledge that the patients were suffering:  Dr. Parkinson was most aware of what these patients were going through “the unhappy sufferer has considered it as an evil, from the domination of which he had no prospect of escape.”

Detailed and exacting description of the patients:  One of the more  interesting features about the essay is the detailed description of the six patients Dr. Parkinson observed: “So slight and nearly imperceptible are the first inroads of this malady, and so extremely slow its progress, that it rarely happens, that the patient can form any recollection of the precise period of its commencement. The first symptoms are a slight sense of weakness, with a proneness to trembling in some particular part; sometimes in the head, but most commonly in one of the hands and arms.” And here as well, “But as the malady proceeds, even this temporary mitigation of suffering from the agitation of the limbs is denied. The propensity to lean forward becomes invincible, and the patient is thereby forced to step on the toes and fore part of the feet, whilst the upper part of the body is thrown so far forward as to render it difficult to avoid falling on the face. In some cases, when this state of the malady is attained, the patient can no longer exercise himself by walking in his usual manner, but is thrown on the toes and forepart of the feet; being, at the same time, irresistibly impelled to take much quicker and shorter steps, and thereby to adopt unwillingly a running pace. In some cases it is found necessary entirely to substitute running for walking; since otherwise the patient, on proceeding only a very few paces, would inevitably fall.”  Dr. Parkinson also noted there was a sleeping disorder component, “In this stage, the sleep becomes much disturbed. The tremulous motion of the limbs occur during sleep, and augment until they awaken the patient, and frequently with much agitation and alarm.”

Hope for a cure: After describing the six patients in his essay, Dr. Parkinson postulated whether or not there was going to be a cure for this new disease? “On the contrary, there appears to be sufficient reason for hoping that some remedial process may ere long be discovered, by which, at least, the progress of the disease may be stopped. It seldom happens that the agitation extends beyond the arms within the first two years; which period, therefore, if we were disposed to divide the disease into stages, might be said to comprise the first stage. In this period, it is very probable, that remedial means might be employed with success: and even, if unfortunately deferred to a later period, they might then arrest the farther progress of the disease, although the removing of the effects already produced, might be hardly to be expected.”   We’ve come a long way in two hundred years in our understanding of this disease; however, we’ve yet to cure Parkinson’s.

A new disease:  Dr. Parkinson was convinced he had described a new disease. As neurology evolved over the next several decades, others read the essay and agreed. Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot  (the acknowledged father of modern neurology) suggested that Dr. Parkinson’s name be linked to the disease he had so accurately described; thus, “maladie de Parkinson” (Parkinson’s disease).  For an additional summary on Parkinson’s disease, and the man behind the discovery please click here

Closing thoughts about Dr. Parkinson: Clearly, Dr. Parkinson was a most talented individual; he was driven to be a good physician and to be an observant scientist.  With  this attention to detail, he was the first to really accurately describe this disease. And  if that wasn’t enough, Dr. Parkinson had a fossil named after him  because  of his interest in geology and paleontology if you’re interested in additional aspects of his life please click and read this paper. I  encourage you to look through any of the papers cited here; you will gain tremendous respect for Dr. James Parkinson.

 To conclude, here are three quotes about Parkinson’s disease:
“realized while I was announcing myself to the group that I was conceding something profound: that the diagnosis marked an irreversible change in my identity, the moment that one version of me ended and another version” Jon Palfreman (Brain Storms: The Race to Unlock the Mysteries of Parkinson’s Disease)
•The next time you are imagining the worst, look up the definition of imagination.” Robert Lyman Baittie (Tremors in the Universe: A Personal Journey of Discovery with Parkinson’s Disease and Spirituality)
•”Without the quest, there can be no epiphany.” Constantine E. Scaros (Reflections on a Simple Twist of Fate: Literature, Art and Parkinson’s Disease)

 

Cover photo credit: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/55/3d/2c/553d2ccd51dd6610cfa91939c4905b96.jpg

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Evidence that Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are Not Transmitted by Blood Transfusion

“I owe my life to blood donors. I’m forever grateful to people who donate.” Niki Taylor

“We are linked by blood, and blood is memory without language.” Joyce Carol Oates

Synopsis: Could either Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s be communicable diseases from human blood products? A recent study shows there is no evidence for these neurodegenerative disorders to be transmitted by blood transfusion.  This observation may contradict a growing hypothesis of a prion-like pathogenesis process for Parkinson’s.  The goal of this post is to present a brief overview of blood transfusion medicine and the study that suggests Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are not transmitted through blood transfusion.

“The easiest thing to be in the world is you. The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be. Don’t let them put you in that position.” Leo Buscaglia

Brief history of transfusion medicine (derived from a lecture in my undergraduate Biology/Pathology course): Galen of Pergamon was a Greek physician-philosopher who believed in the four humors of Hippocratic medicine, which were black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. Each of the four humors corresponded to one of the four traditional personality types/traits. Galen’s theories influenced Western medical science for many years, where blood-letting was even used medically to release a body of a bad humor (see the 2 images on the left side of the figure below).

Galen’s theory of blood circulation physiology lasted until 1628 when William Harvey showed that the heart acts as a pump to circulate the blood. By this time, everyone was aware of the life-giving qualities of blood. In the 1600’s, physician-scientists developed techniques to isolate dog veins, which led them to experiment with the transfusion from dog to dog. Jean-Baptiste Denys carried out the first transfusion of animal to human. The patient complained of “a very great heat along his arm”. Antoine Mauroy had received calves’ blood, he had pain in the transfused arm, vomiting, kidney dysfunction, and pressure in the chest. The next day he passed black urine; he had all of the “classic symptoms” of a hemolytic transfusion reaction. Sadly, Mauroy was re-transfused the next day and died, which resulted in Denys being charged with murder (see the 2 images on the middle of the figure below).   Jump ahead to the 1800’s, and Dr. James Blundell further describes human-to-human blood transfusion studies in a publication in the medical journal Lancet.

“And so I conclude that blood lives and is nourished of itself and in no way depends on any other part of the body as being prior to it or more excellent… So that from this we may perceive the causes not only of life in general… but also of longer or shorter life, of sleeping and waking, of skill, of strength and so forth.” William Harvey

In 1900, Karl Landsteiner performed a series of experiments with 22 colleagues in which the red blood cells of each individual were mixed with the serum of each of the others. From agglutination studies, he found three groups, which he named A, B and C. Landsteiner received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1930 for discovering blood groups and the beginning of transfusion medicine (see the 2 images on the right side of the figure below).

“I have recently observed and stated that the serum of normal people is capable of clumping the red cells of other healthy individuals… As commonly expressed, it can be said that in these cases at least two different kinds of agglutinins exist, one kind in A, the other in B, both together in C. The cells are naturally insensitive to the agglutinins in their own serum.” Karl Landsteiner

transfusion-history-2

Blood facts and statistics in the USA (for the full set of lists, please click here): (a) every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood,  ~36,000 units of red blood cells are needed every day in the U.S., and  ~7,000 units of platelets and 10,000 units of plasma are needed daily in the U.S., respectively; (b) the yearly U.S. blood supply is through collection of 13.6 million units of whole blood and red blood cells from 6.8 million donors; (c) blood donation is a safe process that is a simple four-step process that consists of registration, medical history and mini-physical, donation and refreshments; (d) the average adult has about 10 pints of blood in their body with ~1 pint given during a donation; and (e) there are four types of transfusable products obtained from blood: red cells, platelets, plasma and cryoprecipitate, and a single donation can potentially help more than one patient.

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“Blood is a very special juice.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Is there a risk of getting either Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease from blood products?  Short-answer, no. This conclusion was reported by  Edgren, G., et al. (2016). “Transmission of neurodegenerative disorders through blood transfusion: A cohort study.” Annals of Internal Medicine 165(5): 316-324 (click here to view paper).  This is a retrospective cohort study, which means a scientific study of a group of people (cohort) that share a common exposure factor (here it a blood transfusion) to determine its influence on getting a disease (here it would be a neurodegenerative disease such as Parkinson’s  or Alzheimer’s), and then comparing this group of people to individuals not exposed to this situation/factor.

The study was based on >40 000 patients from a Swedish-Danish transfusion database who had received blood between 1968 and 2012 from donors who were later diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or dementia.  The comparison was then done with more than 1.4 million patients who never received blood from donors who subsequently received a diagnosis of a neurodegenerative disorder (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or dementia). They found 2.9% of this group of patients had received a blood product from a donor later diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disorder.  This group of  patients who received blood from donors who were later diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disorder were followed for many years (up to 44 years), and they were matched for sex, age, and time since first transfusion (among some of the features compared/studied).

A big strength of this study was a rigorous statistical analysis of these patients that revealed there was no evidence of transmission of any of these neurodegenerative diseases. If you like statistics keep reading because they calculated a hazard ratio of 1.04 (95% CI, 0.99 to 1.09) for dementia in recipients of blood from donors with dementia versus recipients of blood from healthy donors, and they found for Parkinson’s a hazard ratio of 0.94 (95% CI, 0.78-1.14) and for Alzheimer’s a hazard ratio of 0.99 (95% CI, 0.85-1.15), neither of which were significant. The conclusion from these results suggest that there is no evidence that either Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s is being transmitted through blood transfusion.

“The blood is the life!” Bram Stoker

Neurodegenerative disorders and prions:  The above study somewhat complicates the growing notion that α-synuclein acts as a prion-like substance to contribute to the development of Parkinson’s.  What are prions? Prions are proteins that take-on alternate shapes to cause disease. Prions were discovered while studying the cause of rare neurodegenerative diseases of animals and humans called scrapie and Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, respectively.  Importantly, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) may be transmissible by blood (click here to learn more) and blood products (click here); however, as found in the United Kingdom, most cases of vCJD have occurred due to increased potential exposure to contaminated beef in the diet.  Like α-synuclein in Parkinson’s, the prion-like substance in Alzheimer’s is a misfolded fragment of amyloid beta (Aβ) protein. Aβ fragments are prion-like in their manner of neuronal cell transmission.  A future post will describe in further detail the prion hypothesis for Parkinson’s disease (aggregates of α-synuclein) and Alzheimer’s  disease (aggregates of Aβ protein fragments).  The prion hypothesis of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s suggests these aggregated proteins are directly toxic to healthy neurons as documented in other prion disorders.

“It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood.” William Shakespeare

Blood donation and Parkinson’s, a personal perspective: The paper from Edgren et al. says that it is safe to donate blood even if you have Parkinson’s.  Their results tell me it is okay to continue to donate my blood to the American Red Cross.  This is especially important since I had been donating blood during the window-of-time where I had Parkinson’s before the actual diagnosis.  Good news!

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 “Let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen, to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee… to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror… to say ‘I’m just so grateful because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive’… to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, ‘I’m enough’, then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.” Brené Brown

Cover photo credit:  https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7156/6782892659_a4bec2c07d_b.jpg

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2016: The Year in Parkinson’s

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” Albert Einstein

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” Isaac Asimov

Summary: (Part 1) A brief review of my year with Parkinson’s. (Part 2) An overview of 12 scientific research studies on Parkinson’s from 2016.

Part 1. A personal Parkinson’s 2016 calendar review

Life with Parkinson’s: 706 days ago I started this blog ‘Journey with Parkinson’s’; and it’s been a remarkable journey through time since then.  Life is full, rarely a dull moment.  Dealing with a disorder like Parkinson’s is difficult because it slowly creeps around your body, somewhat stealth by nature but always ever present.  It requires a daily inventory of body movements, mental capacity and overall self-feelings compared to the day-week-month-year before.

Life is loving, fun, intellectually challenging, active, full, rarely a moment off; however, its best that way for me.  I close this paragraph by repeating two quotes from last year. They remind me to simply try to live as best as I am able for as long as I can.  My hope for you is likewise as well; keep going, keep working, stay active, stay the course.  Please make a manageable life-plan/contract with your care-partner, family and close friends; keep going, and please don’t give up.

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

“If you fell down yesterday, stand up today.” H.G. Wells

My year with Parkinson’s: To highlight my 2016, I’ve chosen 1 event/month to describe (not mentioned are the trips to the beach/vacation with Barbara, golf with the golf buddies, and other activities related to education, research and outreach for Parkinson’s.)  I am a very fortunate person.

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January-June, 2016:
(JAN) The 22nd year/class of undergraduates taking my spring semester course on ‘Biology of Blood Diseases’, great fun!
(FEB) An anniversary dinner with Barbara, a most loving person and the best care-partner.
(MAR) Started work on the WPC Parkinson Daily (eNewspaper) for the World Parkinson Congress).
(APR) Compiled all of the quotes from the students in class that led to the Kindle version (2016)/Paperback version (2017) of “A Parkinson’s Reading Companion”  (Click here to read about it).
(May) Graduation ceremonies are always on Mother’s Day weekend; it is filled with joy and regalia, promise and the future ahead for all of the graduates (typically, I attend the medical school ceremony on Saturday and as many undergraduate ceremonies on SAT-SUN my schedule permits (picture above is from the Dept. Biology commencement).
(JUN) A weekend in the Smoky Mountains in Asheville, NC: to attend a Parkinson’s retreat, to relax-renew-play golf, and to get a second Parkinson’s-related tattoo.

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” Omar Khayyam

17-02-06-jul-dec-2016

July-December, 2016:
(JUL) A weekend in Greenville, SC to participate and get certified in PWR! (Parkinson Wellness Recovery); an amazing experience (click here to read blog post about it).
(AUG) Truly a professional highlight of my career being chosen by the medical students to deliver the 2016 Richard H. Whitehead Lecture (click here to read blog post about it).
(SEP) Attended and presented a poster at the 4th World Parkinson Congress (WPC) in Portland, OR (click here to read about the WPC).
(OCT) Moving Day® NC Triangle, National Parkinson Foundation; great team and such a fun day/experience (click here to read about NC Triangle Moving Day).
(NOV) Research proposal submitted on the role of proteases and their inhibitors, alpha-synuclein and exercise in Parkinson’s. It is something I’ve been thinking about all of last year (click here to read about the funding program).
(DEC) Finished teaching the 3rd class of the Honor’s-version and fall semester of the undergraduate ‘Biology of Blood Diseases’ course; a great honor for me.

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Albert Schweitzer

Part 2. The year (2016) in Parkinson’s science

Parkinson’s with a hopeful future: To live successfully with a chronic and progressing neurodegenerative disorder like Parkinson’s requires much, but in the least it takes hope.  We must remain hopeful that advances in Parkinson’s treatment are being made and that our understanding of the science of Parkinson’s is continuing to evolve.

Parkinson’s research: Parkinson’s is the most prevalent neurodegenerative movement disorder.  According to PubMed, there were 6,782 publications in 2016 that used “Parkinson’s disease” in the Title/Abstract.  Likewise in 2016, PubMed had 9,869 and 1,711 citations on Alzheimer’s disease and on Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), respectively. Most research studies move in incremental steps; we describe a hypothesis and collect the data to hopefully advance us forward.

2016, the year in Parkinson’s: To remind us of some of these forward steps in Parkinson’s research, and to add to our base-level of hope, here are 12 projects from 2016 regarding Parkinson’s (there are several studies, not mentioned here, that I’m currently working on for individual blog posts because they seemed super-relevant and in need of more thorough presentation/explanation).  Although 12 is a minuscule list of citations/work reported from last year, it reinforces a simple notion that our trajectory is both positive and hopeful.

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January, 2016: Dipraglurant FDA-approved to treat dyskinesia. After ~5 years of treatment with the ‘gold-standard’ Levodopa/Carbidopa, many people-with-Parkinson’s develop drug-induced involuntary movement (also called dyskinesia).  This can be a serious side-effect of levodopa, and it can lead to numerous detrimental consequences.  The pharmaceutical company, Addex Therapeutics, has received orphan drug status for their drug named Dipraglurant, which will be used for the treatment of levodopa-induced dyskinesia.  Click here to read about the putative molecular mechanism of Dipraglurant, what advantages Addex gains from the designated orphan-drug status, and for more information about Addex.

“January is here, with eyes that keenly glow, A frost-mailed warrior striding a shadowy steed of snow.” Edgar Fawcett

February, 2016: Early detection of Parkinson’s from mouth salivary gland biopsy.   There is no definitive test to identify Parkinson’s in its early stages.  Finding an easily accessible tissue for  biopsy  to help with the diagnosis would be of value.  From autopsy samples, the submandibular saliva glands in the mouth seemed to be a relevant and easily accessible site to study.  The test involved inserting a needle into the submandibular salivary gland under the jaw,  staining for modified-a-synuclein.   The results revealed  that Parkinson’s patients had  increased level of a-synuclein  compared to patients  without Parkinson’s.  Click here to view this paper: Adler, Charles H. et al. “Peripheral Synucleinopathy in Early Parkinson’s Disease: Submandibular Gland Needle Biopsy Findings.” Movement disorders : official journal of the Movement Disorder Society 31.2 (2016): 250–256. PMC. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

“Even though February was the shortest month of the year, sometimes it seemed like the longest.” Lorraine Snelling

March, 2016:  Three-dimensional scaffold used  to grow neuronal cells for transplant to brain.  Scientists have been able to convert adult stem cells into neuronal cells by culturing the stem cells in three-dimensional  scaffolding.   There are many obstacles successfully using stem cells to treat Parkinson’s disease; one of them is converting the stem cells into dopamine-producing-neuronal cells to replace the dead brain cells of the patient.   The three-dimensional scaffolding facilitated which allowed the neuronal cells to be injected into mice. Hopefully, this approach will eventually be ready for testing in humans; however, this is a potential glimpse to the future. To read this research paper, click here: “Generation and transplantation of reprogrammed human neurons in the brain using 3D microtopographic scaffolds” by Aaron L. Carlson et al., in Nature Communications. Published online March 17 2016 doi:10.1038/ncomms10862

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

April, 2016: Role of Mer and Axl in immune clearance of neurons in Parkinson’s.
TAM receptors are found on immune system cells and they help clear out dead cells  generated by out bodies.  Two of the TAM receptors, dubbed Mer and Axl, help immune cells called macrophages act as garbage collectors. This study asked whether or not the brain microglial cells (brain macrophages) had such activity through Mer and Axl.  Interestingly, in mice lacking Mer and Axl, neurons regenerated much more rapidly in certain areas of the brain. Furthermore, microglial expression of Axl was upregulated in the inflammatory environment in a mouse model of Parkinson’s.  These results identify TAM receptors as controllers of microglial scavenger activity and also as potential therapeutic targets for Parkinson’s.  Click here to view this article: Fourgeaud, L., et al. (2016). “TAM receptors regulate multiple features of microglial physiology.” Nature 532(7598): 240-244.

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything. (Sonnet XCVIII)”  William Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s Sonnets

May, 2016:  Complex genetics found in the study of Parkinson’s in human brain tissue.  Genetic changes were found in Parkinson’s disease and Parkinson’s disease dementia.  A team of scientists used RNA sequencing to illuminate two phenomena linked with the onset of Parkinson’s disease: specifically, differential gene expression and alternative splicing of genes. The study describes 20 differentially expressed genes in Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s dementia, comparing these with healthy controls. Genes showing over-expression included those involved with cell movement, receptor binding, cell signaling and ion homeostasis. Under-expressed genes had an involvement with hormone signaling.  These results increase our understanding of Parkinson’s; furthermore, the complexity of their results suggest we may be able to achieve a more detailed diagnosis .  Click here to view paper: Henderson-Smith, Adrienne et al. “Next-Generation Profiling to Identify the Molecular Etiology of Parkinson Dementia.” Neurology: Genetics 2.3 (2016): e75.

“May, more than any other month of the year, wants us to feel most alive.” Fennel Hudson

June, 2016: Mutations in a gene called TMEM230 causes Parkinson’s. The role of TMEM230  was found to be in packaging the neurotransmitter dopamine in neurons.  Interestingly, TMEM230 bridges membranes in synaptic vesicles; these vesicles are storage reservoirs for neurotransmitters. Since the loss of dopamine-producing neurons defines Parkinson’s, a defect in TMEM230 implies a new link to a genetic cause of Parkinson’s.  The research team identified this mutation in Parkinson’s patients in North America and Asia. Click here to view paper: Deng, H-X, et al., “Identification of TMEM230 mutations in familial Parkinson’s disease”. Nature Genetics 48, 733–739 (2016).

“I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.”  L.M. Montgomery

July, 2016: Improving deep brain stimulation (DBS), one patient at a time.  Instead of one-size-fits-all, these researchers are pioneering a novel strategy for fine-tuning DBS on each person’s individual physiology.  Their DBS platform, termed Phasic Burst Stimulation, has the potential to (i) enhance therapeutic efficacy, (ii) extend battery lifespan; (iii) reduce detrimental side effects, and (iv)  adjust as each person’s motor symptoms change.  This tuning-based DBS approach has real promise.  Click here to view paper: “Phasic Burst Stimulation: A Closed-Loop Approach to Tuning Deep Brain Stimulation Parameters for Parkinson’s Disease.” by A.B. Holt et al., PLOS Computational Biology, http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.100501

“My life, I realize suddenly, is July. Childhood is June, and old age is August, but here it is, July, and my life, this year, is July inside of July.” Rick Bass

August, 2016: Comparison of different movement disorders to better understand Parkinson’s.  These researchers compared multiple system atrophy (MSA) and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) to Parkinson’s.  MSA and PSP are progressive disorders that also cause changes in balance and walking.  The study consisted of  functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans with each person using a grip strength exercise, which showed changes in the regions of brain that control muscle movement. Parkinson’s patients showed changes in the putamen and the primary motor cortex;  MSA patients had changes in the primary motor cortex, the supplementary motor area and the superior cerebellum. PSP patients showed a change in all four areas.  Normal healthy controls had no changes. These detailed results (i) show the progression of each movement disorder and (ii) indicate that biomarkers for these specific-regions of the brain might be useful for not only monitoring disease progression but also response to therapy. Click here to view article: Burciu et al., “Functional MRI of disease progression in Parkinson disease and atypical parkinsonian syndromes.”, Burciu, Chung, Shukla, Ofori, McFarland, Okun, Vaillancourt, Neurology, 016 Aug 16;87(7):709-17. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000002985

“The month of August had turned into a griddle where the days just lay there and sizzled.” Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

September, 2016: Preventing falls by combining virtual reality and treadmill training.   Falling down is one of the most common and most detrimental problems in the elderly  with Parkinson’s. This research team combined treadmill use with virtual reality training. They tested a large group of older adults at high risk for falls; they found that treadmill training with virtual reality led to reduced fall rates compared to treadmill training alone.Click here to view article: Mirelman et al.,  “Addition of a non-immersive virtual reality component to treadmill training to reduce fall risk in older adults (V-TIME): a randomised controlled trial”, The Lancet, 2016 Sep 17;388(10050):1170-82. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(16)31325-3

“By all these lovely tokens September days are here, With summer’s best of weather And autumn’s best of cheer.”  Helen Hunt Jackson

October, 2016: Caffeine-based compounds stop alpha (a)-synuclein misfolding in a yeast model of Parkinson’s. The aggregation (misfolding) of the protein a-synuclein is thought to be a key contributing factor in neuronal cell death that leads to Parkinson’s.  The misfolded a-synuclein ultimately forms what are termed Lewy bodies, which produce much neuronal cell morbidity and mortality. Caffeine has been shown to be  somewhat protective against Parkinson’s. The study here made double-headed constructs of compounds using caffeine and nicotine and other chemicals and asked whether or not they could stop a-synuclein misfolding.  Possibly a far-fetched  idea, 2 of the caffeine-double-headed compounds worked.  These studies used a novel a-synuclein-fluorescent-green substance expressed in yeast.  Expression of the green-a-synuclein misfolded and killed the yeast; however, in the presence of the caffeine-adducts, the green-a-synuclein folded properly and the yeast stayed alive.  Such cool science.  To read this paper, click here) “Novel dimer compounds that bind α-synuclein can rescue cell growth in a yeast model overexpressing α-synuclein. a possible prevention strategy for Parkinson’s disease”, Jeremy Lee et al., ACS Chem Neurosci. Epub 2016 Oct 7. 2016 Dec 21;7(12):1671-1680. doi: 10.1021/acschemneuro.6b00209.

“Autumn is my favourite season of all. It is a transitory period that allows the earth to rest before it sees the harshness of winter and hears the promise of spring.”  Kamand Kojouri

November, 2016: PINK1 gene mutation linked to early onset of Parkinson’s.  A single mutation in the PTEN-induced putative kinase 1 (PINK1) gene has been found to promote  the development of early-onset Parkinson’s. There is growing evidence that PINK1 collaborates with the protein named PARKIN; together they help regulate neuronal cell mitochondria. This interaction to regulate mitochondria (the cell’s power plant) by  PINK1 and PARKIN is important because many brain disorders are known to have issues with energy production (mitochondria) besides Parkinson’s. Click here to view paper: Puschmann, A., et al. Heterozygous PINK1 p.G411S increases risk of Parkinson’s disease via a dominant-negative mechanism. Brain 2016; 140 (1): 98-117. doi: 10.1093/brain/aww261.

“October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and November arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard frosts every morning and icy drafts that bit at exposed hands and faces.”  J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

December, 2016:  President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act. Not a paper but a National Institute of Health (NIH) federally-supported research initiative. The Cures Act is focused on  cancer, brain disease, drug addiction and other diseases/processes for the next  decade. The 21st Century Cures Act contains $4.8 billion in new NIH (National Institutes of Health) funds, including the BRAIN Initiative for the comprehensive mapping of  the brain.  It is anticipated that we will achieve an even better understanding of Parkinson’s than we have today.  Recently, a commentary about the Cures Act from the viewpoint of the NIH was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Click here to read this article: Hudson, K. L. and F. S. Collins (2017). “The 21st Century Cures Act — A View from the NIH.” New England Journal of Medicine 376(2): 111-113.

“December’s wintery breath is already clouding the pond, frosting the pane, obscuring summer’s memory…” John Geddes

“I like the scientific spirit—the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open—always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake—after a wrong guess.”  Walt Whitman, Walt Whitman’s Camden Conversations

Useful Parkinson’s disease News/Health Information/Reference Sites (click on links below):
Google Scholar- Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s News Today Weekly Digest
Medical News Today (MNT)
Science News- Mind & Brain News
Harvard Medical School- Harvard Healthbeat
The Science of Parkinson’s disease
STAT
NY Times- Well
Neurology Advisor

Cover photo credit: winter smoky mts- http://holicoffee.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/great-smoky-mountains-national-park-usa-extreme-out-door-hiking-trail-adventure-37.jpg

PD word cloud- http://us.123rf.com/450wm/lculig/lculig1612/lculig161200292/66735623-parkinson-disease-word-cloud.jpg?ver=6

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Journey with Parkinson’s Blog in Feedspot Top 50 Parkinson Blogs

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” Matsuo Basho

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Award: The Journey with Parkinson’s blog has been recognized by FeedSpot as a top 50 blog on Parkinson’s Disease! “Top 50 Parkinson Blogs & Websites For People Living With Parkinson’s Disease” (Click here to see the list).

“‘Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say.” Alice Walker

Acknowledgment and thank you: We thank FeedSpot for adding this blog to this very distinguished group of blog sites; this is indeed an honor.

Thank you to the readers and followers of the blog; your continued presence, comments and suggestions truly help sustain the time and energy needed to compose these blog posts.

“The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It’s doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile.” Julia Child

The future: It is my hope that the Journey with Parkinson’s blog will continue to educate, to bolster and to offer support to anyone with Parkinson’s (or any other neurodegenerative disorder).

“Each day we wear a cape on our back labeled with the letters PD (Parkinson’s Disease).  Each day we bring a positive reaction to handle our symptoms, I am convinced we begin to fade those letters; we begin to gain control of our symptoms. While it is not easy to remain positive with such a somber disorder, staying positive can help you cope. Thus, we should strive to live positively as we try to shed our cape named Parkinson’s.” Frank C. Church (Excerpt from “Hope, Courage, Persistence, Positivity, Mindfulness, and the Journey“; click here to read this blog post).

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