Parkinson’s disease affects over an estimated 10 million people across the globe and every year 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disorder. This past weekend the world lost one of its most notable faces of the disease, boxing legend and champion Muhammad Ali. A fearsome boxer in the ring, he was also a passionate advocate for finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Another formidable fighter is taking the fight to Parkinson’s: lab animals. The Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) took a look at animal research and testing in Parkinson’s research in their latest blog post.
The exact cause of Parkinson’s is unknown but researchers know that it is a result of the loss of cells in various parts of the brain, including one portion that produces dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is essential for being able to move in a coordinated way. The loss of dopamine causes the tremors often associated with the condition. There currently is no cure for Parkinson’s but researchers and laboratory animals around the world are working to give it a solid KO. Research with rats and mice showed that dopamine was instrumental in controlling walking and other voluntary movements, and that a depletion of this neurotransmitter impaired movement. In the 1980s, researchers working with monkeys were able to identify in the brain the area impacted by the disease. While researchers identified the location, they did not know how it was affected. Researchers discovered that lowered dopamine levels led to increased activity in the subthalamic nucleus (STN) which resulted in motor abnormalities in monkeys. They could relieve the Parkinson’s symptoms by interfering with the STN. This eventually led the way to deep brain stimulation (DBS), one method of treating Parkinson's disease. With DBS, a pacemaker is implanted that sends electrical impulses to the brain. In 2002, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of DBS to help treat Parkinson’s.
Thanks to rodents and monkeys, we have been able to give the disease some hard body blows. Hopefully, we’ll be able to deliver the knock out punch.
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