June 14, 2024
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Is Parkinson’s a Jewish Genetic Disease?

In welcoming the assembled to Englewood Hospital and Medical Center on Monday evening, December 12, for an event exploring the latest developments in Parkinson’s disease research, Carol Silver Elliott, president and CEO of Jewish Home Family, revealed that 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the identification of Parkinson’s disease. Through a three-way partnership with Jewish Home Family, the Michael J. Fox Foundation and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, the evening was dedicated to revealing two genetic markers recently identified in the field of Parkinson’s disease research and to invite community members to participate in clinical trials being conducted in reaction to these identifications.

Dr. Lana Chahine, an assistant professor of neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed the identification of the linkage between the LRRK2 gene and Parkinson’s disease. Identified in 2004, this gene is the most common genetic contributor to Parkinson’s and is more prevalent in certain ethnic groups. In North Africa, 36 percent of the population carry this mutation. In the Middle East, as well as in the U.S., 28 percent of Ashkenazi Jews carry this mutation, which has a 50 percent rate of transmission to children. Dr. Chahine also revealed that GBA, a mutation that causes Gaucher’s disease, may increase the risk to the development of Parkinson’s disease. In light of these possible linkages, a research study known as PPMI has been undertaken by the Michael J. Fox Foundation at a cost of $60 million, to identify people carrying these mutations, track the percentage that will develop Parkinson’s disease, research the percentage of Jewish Ashkenazi carriers, and hopefully develop new preventive treatments.

“Certain genetic mutations associated with Parkinson’s disease are more common in people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent,” explained Vanessa Arnedo, a participant in the panel discussion following Chahine’s presentation. As director of research partnerships for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, she went on to explain, “Studying people with these mutations—with or without Parkinson’s disease—will teach us about the biology of the disease and accelerate our research toward more effective therapies. We thank the Jewish Home Family and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center for helping us spread awareness about this important initiative.”

Also on the panel were Chief Neurologist of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center Dr. Gary Alweiss, and Jewish Home Family Medical Director Dr. Harvey Gross, who will be spearheading the Parkinson’s Center at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, which involved retraining staff and adding Parkinson’s-specific therapies in all departments.

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disease affecting movement. Symptoms are caused by a lack of a chemical in the brain called dopamine. To date, the causes are unknown. Scientists have identified genetic mutations associated with Parkinson’s disease in some people, but there is no solid proof to show that it is inherited. Parkinson’s disease affects nearly 1 million people in the United States and 5 million people worldwide. Environmental factors and stress may intensify symptoms, which may include tremors and uncontrolled movement of the muscles. Stooped posture and problems with balance and walking, memory loss, dementia, anxiety and depression have also been associated with Parkinson’s disease. Sleep disturbances, loss of smell and eventually speech and swallowing problems are often symptoms of the advanced disease.

The Jewish Home Family is developing a Center of Excellence in the Care of Parkinson’s Disease. “The Center will focus on the development and implementation of clinical protocols, the addition of new and innovative treatment modalities, and the training of the entire staff of the Jewish Home Family,” reported Elliot. A support group for individuals and their families was launched on December 15 at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh. Facilitator Jerry Ratner, who himself is living with Parkinson’s, hopes to address topics such as the latest research, exercise and nutrition.

To date, with no targeted treatments, research is ongoing. The major obstacle to finding a cure to Parkinson’s disease is the lack of biological markers. Clinical trials are restricted because not enough volunteers come forth to participate. Even those individuals with the disease are often reticent to participate in the clinical trials, which prolongs the search even further. Lifestyle changes, with an emphasis on healthy eating, exercise and other activities, are currently the only strategies being implemented to slow down the progression of the disease. The Michael J. Fox Foundation is in need of individuals with Parkinson’s disease and those with the newly identified genetic markers to undergo clinical tests so that prevention and eventually a cure for Parkinson’s disease can finally be targeted.

The full presentation can be viewed on the Jewish Home Family’s YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/jewishhomefamily.

For more information and to volunteer for the research project, visit www.michaeljfox.org.

To learn more about Jewish Home Family, visit www.JewishHomeFamily.org.

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