Category Archives: Parkinson’s Awareness

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/

Life-Journey with Parkinson’s Blog (2016-2017): Recap of Quotes, Service, and Research

“Give your life a destination.” Debasish Mridha

“We’re all a beautiful, wonderful work in progress….Embrace the process!” Nanette Mathews

Précis: This post is a review of my public journey and life-steps with Parkinson’s in the 2nd year of the blog: i) rationale for the blog; ii) quotes/highlights from selected posts between March 2016-March 2017; iii) overview of service activities/events; iv) research and the 4th World Parkinson Congress; v) some of the people that make a difference in my life, and vi) six favorite cover photos from the past year.

Update on I’m Still Here: Journey and Life with Parkinson’s

A thought from Day 01: On March 9, 2015, I began my journey and Parkinson’s-life-story with this blog.  The first blog post ended with the following comment: “I am trying to live life well and authentically, and not be defined by my PD. With the help of family, friends, colleagues, and personal physicians, my goals are to stay positive and strive to keep focused on what matters the most…I am still here!”

Foundational themes of the blog:  The overall goal of the blog is divided between these topics: (a) to describe living with Parkinson’s (“Life Lessons”); (b) to present emerging medical strategies for dealing with Parkinson’s (“Medical Education”); (c) to provide a support mechanism for anyone with Parkinson’s or another neurodegenerative disorder (“Strategy for Living”); and (d) to give an overview of the scientific aspects of Parkinson’s (“Translating Science”).  I really appreciate your continual support, feedback, critiques, and suggestions for future topics (here’s an example): “I enjoy reading your informative blog posts. I believe that addressing the many frustrations of living with Parkinson’s as you are doing with such “matter of factness” and then with a plan of action, must be inspiring to others dealing with the same.  All the while working so hard to maintain your positive outlook…the mental exercise! The other side of the overall challenge in this competition with Parkinson’s Disease to live your present life fully.” If there are some specific topics/life aspects of Parkinson’s you’d like for me to research and present here, please send me the topic(s).  If there is some format change in presentation you’d like to see to improve the readability of future posts, please send me a suggestion.

Quotes and highlights from selected posts from March 2016-March 2017:

  1. “As a long-time educator, I feel that my daily lesson plans are partly derived from my life-experiences and that my syllabus is the sum of my life’s journey.”  From Parkinson’s and the Positivity of Michael J. Fox (click here to read post).
  2. “A regular aerobic exercise program likely helps to promote the appropriate conditions for the injured brain to undergo neuroplasticity.”  From Déjà Vu and Neuroplasticity in Parkinson’s (click here to read post).
  3. We are identified by our characteristic symptoms of our unwanted companion named Parkinson’s. We are all in this together, united by our disorder; held together by those who love and care for us.” From Update on I’m Still Here: Life with Parkinson’s (click here to read post).
  4. While we wait for the potion that slows progression, we exercise and remain hopeful. While we live with a neurodegenerative disorder, we strive to remove the label and we stay positive.” From Parkinson’s Treatment With Dopamine Agonist, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), and Exercise(click here to read post).
  5. Living with Parkinson’s requires you to adapt to its subtle but progressive changes over a long period of time; you need to remain hopeful for many different things.” From Chapter 1: A Parkinson’s Reading Companion on Hope (click here to read post).
  6. “This disorder robs you physically of mobility and flexibility, so maintaining physical strength is really important. This disorder robs you emotionally and this deficit is bigger than the physical defects; thus, to thrive with Parkinson’s demands several character strengths.” From Chapter 3: A Parkinson’s Reading Companion on Strength (click here to read post).
  7. “Life with Parkinson’s is best lived in the current moment without dwelling on the past and dreading the future.”  From Chapter 8: A Parkinson’s Reading Companion on Mindfulness (click here to read post).
  8. “The journey with Parkinson’s requires effort, teamwork, awareness, and a heart-fueled positive attitude to keep going.”  From Chapter 9: A Parkinson’s Reading Companion on Journey (click here to read post).
  9. “Consider your disorder, you must be able to embrace this unexpected turn in your life and manage the best you can. Personalize your disorder and understand its nuances on you; then you will be able to successfully navigate life in its daily presence.” From 9 Life Lessons from 2016 Commencement Speeches (click here to read post).
  10. “I truly believe that the effort most people are using to handle their disorder puts them in a healthier and better lifestyle to manage their symptoms. An emerging predominate picture of Parkinson’s today is a person striving to live strongly.” From The Evolving Portrait of Parkinson’s (click here to read post).
  11. “Believe in Life in the Presence of Parkinson’s”: Every thought expressed here matters to me (click here to read post).
  12. “Your home may change many times over the coming years. Let your heart tell you where your home is.” From 2016 Whitehead Lecture: Advice, Life Stories and the Journey with Parkinson’s (click here to read post).
  13.  “Here’s a simple mindfulness experience/moment: simply be aware of the steam leaving your morning cup of coffee/tea, clear your immediate thoughts, then sip, focus and savor this moment.”  From 7 Healthy Habits For Your Brain (click here to read post).
  14. “You’ve played 17 holes of golf, and you approach the 18th hole to finish the round. This is a long par three with a lake between you on the tee box and the putting surface.  Your three golf buddies have already safely hit their balls over the lake;  you  launch the ball over the water and safely onto the green (this is a big deal).  Without Parkinson’s, your facial expression and your exuberance are so obvious.  With Parkinson’s, your joy and exuberance are still over-flowing inwardly yet it is displayed in a more muted manner.”  From The Mask of Parkinson’s (click here to read post).
  15. “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.”  From 2016: The Year in Parkinson’s (click here to read post).
  16. “Since receiving my Parkinson’s diagnosis, my opinion of exercise has changed.  With Parkinson’s, I’m now exercising as if my life depends on it.”  From 9 Things to Know About Exercise-induced Neuroplasticity in Human Parkinson’s (click here to read post).

Service and research:
Service- I was most fortunate to be able to participate in 2 ways for the 4th World Parkinson Congress (WPC), first as a member of the Communications Committee, World Parkinson Coalition; second, as the Co-Editor, Daily Parkinson eNewspaper for the 4th WPC.  And it gave me an opportunity to work with the very talented Eli Pollard (Executive Director WPC).  A truly amazing Editorial Board was assembled of PD advocates, researchers, experts, PwP, and just a superb group of people devoted to Parkinson’s (click here to read the Editorial Board Biographical Sketches).   This was a meaningful experience to have worked with the Editorial Board, a real honor.

Being part of the Planning Committee, Moving Day NC Triangle, headed up by Jessica Shurer, was such fun.  This was my first year on the committee; however, it was my second year to organize a team for Moving Day.

PWR!Moves® Instructor Workshop Certificate. Spent a weekend in Greenville, SC to participate and get certified in PWR!Moves (PWR = Parkinson Wellness Recovery).  To sum it up is easy, truly an amazing event.  I was fortunate to have an experienced-talented instructor and a group of personal trainers committed to working with PwP (click here to read the blog post describing the PWR! experience). Although I was happy to contribute as the person-with-Parkinson’s and go through the exercise routines for everyone, it was even more fun getting trained and certified in PWR!Moves.

Research-  One of the new directions in my life is a shift in the focus of my research away from hematology and to Parkinson’s.  I keep asking myself, why? and keep answering why not!  The process is just like everything else related to research and grant applications; you read, plan, write, submit, and wait.  However, I am pleased to say that CJ’s fellowship entitled “Localization of Proteases and their Inhibitors in Parkinson’s Disease” was funded by UNC-CH.  It’s a start…we begin gathering data next month.  And I am so proud of CJ for seeking (and obtaining) funding to get us started in the science of Parkinson’s.

“Life is like a roller-coaster with thrills, chills, and a sigh of relief.” Susan Bennett

The people that make a difference in my life: Collectively, everyone here gives me strength each and every day of my journey with this disorder.

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Above- Barbara, the best care-partner/best friend/best everything; I can’t imagine being here and doing all of this without your never-ending love and support.

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Top and bottom right panels above- lab/research group [especially important are CJ (currently working in the lab) and Mac (a long-time collaborator) and Chantelle, Savannah, and Jasmine (no longer working in the lab but still are great friends and vital to our success)]; middle panel- nothing more valuable than family, with my sisters (Tina and Kitty), and bottom left panel- my all-important golf buddies [Walter, Kim, Nigel (not pictured) and John].

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Panels above- undergraduate classes from SP ’16, FA’ 16 and SP ’17 inspire me every day to keep teaching and fuel my inner-core to keep going another year.

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Above panels- medical students (all 180 students/class) enrich my life and challenge me to keep working hard and stay happy.

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Besides attending a Parkinson’s Congress, getting certified in PWR!, publishing a book, and walking for Parkinson’s; it was all made easier by my PWR! Physical Therapist and gifted teacher Jennifer (top right panel), expert medical guidance from my Neurologist Dr. Roque (middle panel), Parkinson’s-education-awareness from the best movement disorder center social-worker Jessica (bottom middle panel), perpetual energy and role model of a PwP-advocate Lisa (bottom right panel), and Johanna and Katie (not pictured above) who make my day-job such a joyful experience.  And I apologize to many others who are not pictured here because you do really matter to me.

6 favorite cover photos from the past year (links to photos at the end):

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Thank you! Thank you for your support during the second year of my journey with this blog. As always, live decisively, be positive, stay focused, remain persistent and stay you.

“I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time. Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”  Brené Brown, Rising Strong

Noted added in proof: For a day or so, a preliminary version of this post appeared in 200 Years Ago James Parkinson published “An Essay On The Shaking Palsy” (click here to view).  Together, this combined post was substantially longer than my usual blog post.  Therefore, I separated them and decided to present this year-end-review in an expanded format.

Cover photo credit: farm4.staticflickr.com/3953/15575910318_ec35ebb523_b.jpg

Photo credits for the 6 favorite cover photos for 2016-2017: top left http://epod.usra.edu/.a/6a0105371bb32c970b015438c5312a970c-pi;  top right: : http://vb3lk7eb4t.search.serialssolutions.com/?V=1.0&L=VB3LK7EB4T&S=JCs&C=TC0001578421&T=marc ; middle left wallpaper-crocus-flower-buds-violet-primrose-snow-spring-flowers.jpg; middle right : http://az616578.vo.msecnd.net/files/2016/03/19/635940149667803087959444186_6359344127228967891155060939_nature-grass-flowers-spring-2780.jpg ; bottom left : http://www.beaconhouseinnb-b.com/wp-content/uploads/dawn-at-spring-lake-beach-bill-mckim.jpg ; bottom right : http://www.rarewallpapers.com/beaches/lifeguard-station-10678

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Parkinson’s Awareness Month: Veterans Health Administration PD Video Series

“My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging.” Hank Aaron

“Nothing worth having comes easy.” Theodore Roosevelt

Introduction: Several years ago, the Veterans Health Administration produced videos to educate/inform our veterans about Parkinson’s disease.   For more information, read about the VA Core Values and Mission Statement (click here); it is an admirable sentiment.

As we are living longer, so too are our veterans. Some service-related-experiences may have predisposed some of them to develop Parkinson’s.  All of these videos are available on YouTube.  However, since this is Parkinson’s awareness month, putting them all together might benefit others to better understand Parkinson’s.   I definitely learned something from watching these videos, they were all outstanding.

Each individual video features a veteran (frequently their care-partner too) who agreed to be videotaped (having done this type of interview myself, it is not an easy experience); I admire their courage to participate and to help educate all of us. Furthermore, the VA clinical and support staff were passionate and compassionate about their roles in dealing with our veterans with Parkinson’s.

“Losing the possibility of something is the exact same thing as losing hope and without hope nothing can survive.” Mark Z. Danielewski

Veterans Health Administration – My Parkinson’s Story:
My Parkinson’s Story:
Early Parkinson’s Disease [click here for video]

My Parkinson’s Story: Thinking and Memory Problems with Parkinson Disease [click here for video]

My Parkinson’s Story: Medications [click here for video] 

My Parkinson’s Story: Dyskinesias [click here for video] 

My Parkinson’s Story: Atypical [click here for video] 

My Parkinson’s Story: Driving [click here for video]

My Parkinson’s Story: Sleep Problems and Parkinson’s Disease [click here for video] 

My Parkinson’s Story: Genetics [click here for video] 

My Parkinson’s Story: Exercise [click here for video] 

My Parkinson’s Story: Environmental Exposure [click here for video]

My Parkinson’s Story: The Impact of Depression in Parkinson’s Disease [click here for video] 

My Parkinson’s Story: Impact of Falls and Parkinson’s Disease [click here for video]

My Parkinson’s Story: The Caregiver [click here for video] 

My Parkinson’s Story: Deep Brain Stimulation and Parkinson Disease [click here for video]

My Parkinson’s Story: Hospitalization [click here for video] 

My Parkinson’s Story: Speech and Swallowing [click here for video] 

My Parkinson’s Story: Advanced Parkinsons [click here for video]

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you. You must travel it by yourself. It is not far. It is within reach. Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.” Walt Whitman

“We can’t equate spending on veterans with spending on defense. Our strength is not just in the size of our defense budget, but in the size of our hearts, in the size of our gratitude for their sacrifice. And that’s not just measured in words or gestures.” Jennifer Granholm

Cover Photo Credit: http://wallpapersafari.com/w/Fy0h6Q/