3 years after three time world champion boxer Muhammed Ali retired from boxing, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984. He died in July of 2016. While so many of us have heard the name of this particular disease that took the life of people far too precious, we barely know anything about it. We see someone suffering from this disease and we feel bad for them but how much do we really know about why this disease occurs in a human brain?
Not a Death Sentence
Parkinson’s is not a death sentence. It is a chronic and progressive disease that affects an estimate of one million people in the United States of America, according to Parkinson Disease Foundation. Every patient has different symptoms. While one could have tremors in the hand, another could have them in the leg, face, and arm. People also experience balance problems that gradually become worse over time as the disease progresses.
Parkinson Disease Doesn’t Kill
People hardly ever die of Parkinson’s disease. What they do die of are complications that occur from the disease such as pneumonia, difficulty swallowing or perhaps from a fall. Muhammed Ali himself was admitted to the hospital with respiratory problems. He later died from a septic shock, according to the New York Times.
Parkinson’s slowly progresses which is why it isn’t a death sentence but rather a painful life. It progresses in a matter of years and decades, not months like in the case of cancer.
Medications for Prevention of Disease
While there are many medications that can ease the life of a patient suffering from Parkinson’s disease, there hasn’t been many breakthroughs in the field of medicine that could find a potential cure for it. However, recent studies have shown that drugs prescribed to asthma patients can reduce the risk of someone developing Parkinson’s disease as much as 50%. This study was conducted for 10 years as the development of Parkinson’s was studied.
Since the year 2004, Professor Trond Riise has kept an eye on the effects of 100 million Norwegian prescriptions and medications to find some sort of connection with Parkinson Disease.
The drug called Salbutamol which comes in the form of a blue inhaler and is marketed under the name of Ventolin is something that is frequently prescribed to patients suffering from asthma as well as COPD to relieve symptoms such as coughing, breathlessness, and wheezing. This medicine works because it has a protein receptor (β2AR) that allows the muscles in the airways to relax, making it much easier for the patient to breathe.
The Science of it All
There is a protein called α-synuclein that is found in the brains of patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease. This protein builds up amyloid plaque clumps which cause the majority of symptoms in the patients. What Ventolin does is encode this particular protein.
Asthma Medicine: Unsure and Unclear
Although researchers aren’t entirely sure that it is α-synuclein protein that is a toxic one but there have been proven results that asthma drugs reduce the very expression of this protein found in the brains of patients suffering from Parkinson’s. These drugs also protect the neurons that are generally destroyed by the degenerative disease.
“It’s an exciting clue. Our discoveries may be the start of a totally new possible treatment for this serious disease. We expect that clinical studies will follow these discoveries.”
– Clemens Scherzer of Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School
Parkinson’s is a chronic disease that occurs due to unknown causes. It functions by destroying the brain cells in a patient that controls body movement. We can only cure something that we understand and right now Parkinson’s causes in the human brain remain unknown which is why there isn’t a definitive cure for it yet. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t precautions that we can take to reduce the chance of one developing Parkinson’s. The science behind why asthma medicine work in reducing the risk of Parkinson’s disease is still a bit unclear but as medicine progresses, we are getting closer and closer to a cure. The fact that asthma medicine do work is proof enough that this disease is not a hopeless one.