The well-known actor Michael J. Fox has been fighting a hard battle for years. It is the battle of his life against the overwhelming opponent of Parkinson’s disease.
The 1980s were the years of Michael J. Fox. In the movie trilogy “Back to the Future”, Fox played the character of Marty McFly, a small town boy on a journey through time to the youth of his parents.
The mid-fifties Fox (born 1961) has been suffering from Parkinson’s disease since 1991. The first tremor symptoms occurred during filming, when the little finger of his left hand was trembling. He then managed to hide the disease by deliberate acting-as-if for years.
In 1998 he made it public. In the meantime, Fox’s seizures are sometimes so severe that they cause hemiplegic paralysis.
What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s (“shaking palsy”) is a slowly progressing neurodegenerative disease. It usually begins between the ages of 50 and 79 (peak: 58 to 62). Its cause is the death of the nerve cells in the midbrain that produce dopamine. In addition to dopamine deficiency, a deficiency in the neurotransmitters serotonin or norepinephrine has also been found. This causes:
• Muscular rigidity,
• slowed down movements up to immobility,
• Muscle tremor,
• Postural instability.
Disorders in the vegetative, psychological or cognitive area are possible concurrently.
An early sign is the reduced and later missing swinging of an arm while running. Further symptoms are one-sided muscle tension, reduction of the sense of smell, the “anoint face”, or the slowing down of thinking processes.
Until today there is no possibility to stop the progressive degeneration of the nerve cells. The symptoms, on the other hand, can now be treated. This can offer patients an almost unconstrained life – for decades at a time.
For treatment, brain pacemakers, gene therapy (enzymes are used to increase dopamine production), stem cell therapies or transdermal patchess are used.
Fox, Ali and nicotine!
Fox founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) in 2000. He supports stem cell research and has Muhammad Ali, who is also ill, at his side.
Particularly exciting: he sponsors clinical research that aims at establishing a connection between nicotine and Parkinson’s disease! In fact, studies show that smokers suffer 60% less from Parkinson’s disease than non-smokers. Pre-clinical studies show that nicotine can protect dopamine-producing neurons from dying. This is exactly what Parkinson’s disease is all about. In order to prevent nicotine from having to be absorbed through smoking (which in turn is harmful to health), nicotine is administered transdermally via a patch in the clinical study.
There is still much to learn about the possible biological relation between nicotine and Parkinson’s disease. But the approach raises hope.
Image: Lohmann Therapie-Systeme AG