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The state can tip the scales in the quest for a Parkinson’s cure

3 min read

Parkinson’s disease is the fastest-growing neurological condition in the world.

One in every 500 people is affected, yet it is often kept at bay with medication developed 60 years ago, and there remains no cure in sight. My family is all too familiar with these statistics. My mum was diagnosed four years ago. 

Unlike other diseases, Parkinson’s follows no clear pathway, which means treatment is often complex. One day you can be seemingly fine, while the next you are unable to perform the most basic of tasks. It is a terribly cruel and scary fate. That is why this Parkinson’s Awareness Month, it is important to share this knowledge and ask for support with efforts to cure this much-misunderstood disease.

If the pandemic taught us anything, it is that we should be backing our world-leading scientific community. Government, business and the third sector must maintain the momentum generated by the Covid-19 vaccine creation and its subsequent roll-out and recommit to give those suffering this “incurable” illness their lives back, literally. 

Parkinson’s develops when cells in the brain stop functioning and are ultimately “lost” over time. These cells play a crucial role in creating dopamine, which your brain requires to help regulate your movement.
An absence of dopamine can result in rigidity and tremors, the likes of which are often associated with the late, great, Muhammad Ali, who himself fought a battle against the condition.

Breaking down barriers to understanding is made even more challenging because of the broad spectrum of symptoms – there are more than 40. The tremors may never come, but issues with memory, sleep or mood may exist, and it can be common for those with Parkinson’s to experience depression. 

As we have experienced, this can often bring people into contact with multiple parts of the NHS. While excellent in isolation, there remains a challenge in the way the disease is fought holistically. 

Medication founded some 60 years ago is routinely prescribed alongside exercise, a healthy diet and having a positive mental attitude. Parkinson’s aside, it will not be lost on anyone that three-quarters of these “prescriptions” are the basis of a standard healthy lifestyle.

While this may seem downbeat, there are reasons to be positive. Our family has raised £20,000 over the past four years and we are far from alone. Our fundraising has brought us into contact with some truly inspiring people, doing some incredible things. A quick online search for Michael J. Fox’s foundation highlights what is possible.

The Parkinson’s UK Brain Bank is a world first. Clinical trials into growth factors that support the survival of brain cells continue, while a better understanding of the events which lead to the damage and loss of brain cells is progressing.

In my experience, rather ironically, this makes it harder. The science is now agonisingly close and while fundraising supports crucial research and development, there is no escaping the fact that targeted state investment would tip the scales in our favour. 

We know because we have all lived through it, that when we all come together, focused on eradicating a global illness, we can achieve great things in a short space of time. 

A model exists to unlock the cure for my mum and millions around the world. It is imperative that those who are in the position to do so exercise it to support the delivery of transformational treatments and cure.

Editorial Note: Miles Evans is Head of Public Affairs for Openreach. He is writing in a personal capacity.

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