April 30, 2014

When Educated and Encouraged, Seniors WILL Try to Stop Taking Risky Meds Like Sleeping Pills

A study published on April 14 in the Journal of American Medical Association Internal Medicine showed that seniors – when they learned more about the dangers of sleeping medications and worked with their doctors to gradually reduce dosages – showed increased success in ditching the meds.

That result seems like a no-brainer. Better informed people make better choices, right? Still, there were doubters who thought patients – especially seniors – wouldn’t be all that willing to play more active roles in their own healthcare and medication use.

“On the contrary: we now have evidence that patients who are better informed make smarter choices," said study leader Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, a geriatrician and professor at the University of Montreal, Canada.

Calling All Chronic Sleeping Pill Users
Here’s how Tannenbaum’s review worked: With the help of Quebec pharmacies, researchers recruited 302 chronic sleeping pill users aged 65-95. Subjects had used sleeping pills for an average of ten years, and were taking about ten different medications every day.

The subjects were randomized into two groups. The first received a seven-page “patient empowerment de-prescribing intervention” which explained pill dangers and encouraged patients to discuss medication-tapering strategies with their doctors. The rest were part of the control group.

April 29, 2014

"Have You Lost Your Mind?"

That's the title of an article by Michael Kinsley in the current (April 26, 2014) issue of The New Yorker. Kinsley poses the question from the perspective of someone who has lived with Parkinson's Disease for 20 years and who has just gone through a battery of tests to see if he could get an answer to that question for himself.

Kinsley is a political journalist, commentator, and pundit. He became known to television audiences as a co-host with William Buckley on CNN's Crossfire. He later participated in the mainstream media's development of online content as the founding editor of Microsoft's journal Slate.

Born in 1951, Kinsley was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease twenty years ago at age 43. He had deep brain surgery to ease the PD symptoms in 2006.

Kinsley on  His Fellow Boomers' Competition
The penultimate contest  for our baby boomers (after who lives longer), Kinsley says is "whoever dies with more of his or her marbles." There are two forms of competition in the boomer death-style Olympics. "There's dying last and there's dying lucid."

New Information from Kinsley I Didn't Need to Know
I could have live happily without knowing that neurologists generally believe that Hitler had Parkinson's. Francisco Franco and Mao Zedong both probably did too.

April 28, 2014

Hospitalization for People with Parkinson's: Dangers and Precautions

In the summer of 2011, I was hospitalized for a few days after a car crash. At the time, I didn’t know that people with Parkinson’s face particular risks when they’re in the hospital. Though there were some complications, everything finally worked out OK for me. Others with PD have not been so lucky.

A story in the New York Times’ excellent "The New Old Old Age" blog told the scary tale of Roger Anderson, 69 and a person with Parkinson’s (PWP). In 2006, he entered the hospital for what he and his wife thought would be fairly routine surgery.

To begin with, Mrs. Anderson couldn’t help the hospital staff understand how important it was for her husband to receive his PD med – Sinemet – at precise intervals. As I have learned so well from personal experience, “off times” – when one pill is wearing off and the next hasn’t kicked in yet – present the greatest risks to PWPs.

That’s when dopamine levels in the brain are lowest, and PWPs are most likely to have mobility problems, to experience freezing of gait (FOG) or uncontrolled tremblings and movements (dyskinesia). At these times, the risk of falling – and serious injury – is greatest.

The National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) reports that 75% of all PWPs do not get their medications on time while they're in the hospital. And of all those who didn't receive their meds on time while in the hospital, 61% had serious complications as a result. Those stats are worrisome enough, but then there's this: PWPs are hospitalized about 50% more often than others. 

April 25, 2014

Blood Pressure Pills for the Elderly: Why I'll Stop Taking Them

Of all my recent health issues, my biggest concern has been whether I should keep taking blood pressure medication. Ditching the pills would be a big deal, since I've taken various hypertension meds for at least 40 years.

A week ago, I summarized my bp history and concerns in a letter to a doctor regarded as a top specialist in this area. It was very detailed, and I've included it at the end of this post.

Here are the keys issues I raised:
  • The acceptable bp guideline for people 60 and older was recently raised to 150/90. Some authorities now argue that anyone over 80 -- without cardiac problems -- can stop taking the pills. Most of my readings are under 150/90, but I do have occasional spikes, many of which occurring in my "off" times, when the last levodopa pill is wearing off, and the next hasn't yet kicked in. But the biggest spikes are caused by nervousness, stress or anxiety. I recently described one incident that produced a reading of 240/120. Can I safely discontinue bp drugs?
  • I've been dealing with high blood pressure for years. But lately, I'm also having alarming drops in bp -- as low as 71/47. I've learned this issue is called orthostatic hypotension, and it's associated with Parkinson's. These big drops typically happen on warm days when I'm outside, standing and active. I get dizzy and come close to fainting or falling. How do I deal with this development?
  • The serotonin booster 5-HTP has helped me avoid Parkinson's common non-motor symptoms -- depression, insomnia and constipation. But taking more than the smallest dose (50mg) can produce alarming bp spikes. On the other hand, I've noticed recently that taking an extra 25mg of the supplement can ease other Parkinson's symptoms, like micrographia (small, cramped handwriting) and a shuffling gait. Can I find a dosage of 5-HTP that reduces PD's symptoms without sending my bp to dangerous levels?

April 24, 2014

Genetics and Parkinson’s Disease: Where Are We?

As April -- National Parkinson’s Awareness Month-- winds down, I want to review the progress we’ve seen in the genetic search for PD treatments – even a prevention or cure. The more I read, the more it seems that understanding how genes work – including how and why they mutate -- will provide the most likely avenue forward.

When I attended the World Parkinson Congress in Montreal last October, I was uplifted by the remarkable positive energy I felt from fellow attendees with PD. Many of the folks there exhibited none of the common symptoms; others were struggling, bravely and visibly, with the disease. It was from those people in the convention hall – not the information from the lectures -- that I felt most energized and hopeful.

No, we haven’t had that “penicillin moment,” as one speaker described it – a sudden and game-changing breakthrough. But, as a quick review of the Michael J. Fox Foundation website (MJFF) reveals, we’ve come a long way in the past two decades.

Two Causal Genes
First, research has identified two “causal genes” -- SNCA and LRRK2 – which, when they mutate, can cause the protein clumping that leads to PD. Mutations in these genes don’t always lead to PD. And when they do, it’s a very small percentage of cases. Still, discovering these mutations – and the role they play in the development of PD -- has given scientists new biomarkers to target.

The SNCA Gene
Until 1997, we didn’t have any evidence of a genetic-PD link. Then scientists discovered that a mutation in the SNCA gene leads to what is now considered a hallmark of PD pathology: the clumping of alpha-synuclein protein (accumulations called “lewi bodies”), which the SNCA gene encodes. This mutation, as far as we know, is extremely rare, but it provided the first glimpse of a genetic cause for the disease.

April 23, 2014

I'm Now an Associate Member of Palisades Village

I've followed with great interest the spread of the "Village" concept -- non-profit membership organizations that help seniors stay safe, comfortable, and active in their own homes for as long as possible. A recent AARP survey indicated that 88 percent of seniors want just that -- to age happily in place.

I didn't think I needed the services of the Village in my beloved Palisades. I have a young couple for housemates; my son and daughter live in the area and frequently remind me that they can help; I have an arrangement with a young friend up the street who acts as my chauffeur; I can afford to hire a gardener and other helpers I occasionally need.

A few days ago, I attended a meeting in a neighbor's home where Palisades Village's executive director provided information on their services. I don't need -- yet -- everything that full members receive, but I learned the Village also offers associate memberships that give seniors access to all the social and cultural events -- not the services -- offered to full members.

It was a timely discovery, in light of my advancing Parkinson's. I've cut way back on my driving, now limiting outings to places in the immediate neighborhood -- the shopping center, the entrance to Battery Kemble Park with its wonderful wooded trails, and the scenic street overlooking the Potomac's DC and Virginia palisades where I love to walk. These destinations are only a few minutes by car from my house.

It's terrific to have all these benefits. But I won't be visiting museums and galleries like before, or regularly attending special events that occur around the nation's capital all the time. Now, the Palisades Village can fill that gap and introduce me to more of my neighbors. Having this new option confirms that the Palisades is as close to heaven as I'm likely to get.

April 22, 2014

Caffeine and Nicotine Together: Powerful One-Two Parkinson's Punch?

According to media reports last week, University of Saskatchewan professor Dr. Jeremy Lee has “discovered” a potential treatment to prevent the progress of Parkinson’s disease. This therapy is no less than a combination of two substances we’ll identify by their technical names: caffeine and nicotine.

We’ve known for a while that smokers and coffee drinkers seem less at risk for PD. Now we learn about the potential of the two common household drugs to work together . . . and the reason why they appear to function especially well in tandem.

The PD literature is full of references to the protein alpha-synuclein. When that protein “misfolds” in brain cells, more and more of the protein accumulates, damaging the cells and short-circuiting their ability to properly communicate with the body. Eventually, symptoms appear – which may include the classic shakiness we associate with Michael J. Fox and other high-profile people with PD.

Lee knew from his earlier studies that amphetamine use and misfolded alpha-synuclein were linked, and that users had higher PD risk. If amphetamines latched on to the protein to cause the misfolding, then caffeine and nicotine must have some different, protective effect. How could he find out what was happening at the cellular level?

April 21, 2014

Schappi-Fuller Nuptials: More Fun than Any Wedding I've Attended!

My granddaughter Emily was married on Saturday, March 29, to Jerrod Fuller. The wedding ceremony was held in the United House of Prayer for All People, Baltimore, MD. A fabulous time was had by all.

I'll keep the narrative to the minimum, and let the photos tell the story.

The Procession at the Church
Jerrod's parents led off the procession, followed by this couple:

I was delighted when Emily asked me to escort her wonderful foster mother Carolyn down the aisle. The cap covers my heavily bandaged forehead after recent skin cancer surgery.

April 18, 2014

"Celebrating" 20 Years with Prostate Cancer

You needn't send a "Happy Anniversary" card.

Actually, I keep forgetting I have prostate cancer. I get the reminder every six months for my regularly scheduled appointment with my urologist. He administers the blood and finger tests, then I worry for a day or two while I await the results. That's about it.

I had my spring checkup last Monday. Results later.

My Prostate Cancer History
I learned about my prostate cancer in 1994. After reviewing options with my urologist, Dr. Nicholas Constantinople, I chose surgery. That was in January, 1995 -- a strange way to celebrate my first month of retirement. The operation also marked my first use of Medicare.

Post-operative PSA tests showed some remaining cancer cells. One of the key -- and most difficult -- questions with prostate cancer is whether it's relatively slow-growing or more aggressive. Fortunately, mine has proved to be the former.

Since 1995, I've checked in with Dr. Constantinople every spring and fall. My PSA reading went from near zero in March 1995 to a little over 4 in March 2011. Then the number began bouncing around, starting with a big jump to 9.4 in October 2011. Urologists become concerned when PSA readings more than double within a year or so.

I wasn't concerned. I was panicked, expecting Dr. C to recommend hormone treatment or some aggressive, unpleasant therapy. Instead, he said "Let's wait and see what happens next March." I was relieved when that number came in at 7.1, and Dr. C said that number was in the normal range for me.

April 17, 2014

Computer "Brain Training" .... Should You?

When I decided to research the question – Does computer brain (or cognitive) training work? – I had no idea that the answers would so various, or so complicated.

If one headline I found summed up the issue, it’s this one from an article in the cerebral magazine Scientific American: “Study Shows Brain Power Can Be Bolstered—Maybe.”

It’s no wonder we get a “maybe.” To begin with, what IS brain power? There are so many different elements: reaction time, visual and auditory recognition, attention, processing speed, executive function, and the biggie: memory. Reviewers even chop memory into subgroups, like episodic and working memory.

Even if you zero in on a specific cognitive activity of interest, you have to ask: “Who was tested?” Healthy children? Kids with ADHD? Healthy teens? Healthy adults? Adults with cognitive impairment? Study subjects who were motivated? Subjects who really wanted to improve?

It’s just like high school: The smart kids who studied, paid attention in class, and did their homework got excellent grades on their tests. The slackers barely got by. So, if you tried to evaluate the success of a teacher’s training abilities, you’d hear as many answers as there are students in class, and you've have the data to prove it.

Why should computer brain training be any different?

Can Positive Results "Generalize"? Will They Last?

April 16, 2014

Naya Barsa Ko Hardik Mangalmaya Shubhakamana!

That's Nepali for "New Year Auspicious Best Wishes!"

This past Sunday marked the start of year 2071 in Nepal. It was also New Year's Day in Bangladesh and other Southeast Asian countries. Many countries celebrate the new year in March or April, coinciding with the beginning of spring. Jews and others celebrate the new year during fall harvest time. We picked the cold, dark beginning of January, when the weather is usually miserable.

Sunday here in Washington was the nicest day we've had this year, and well worth celebrating. So was Saturday, Nepali New Year's Eve. My housemates Nimesh and Bhawana were featured performers at a celebration Saturday night attended by hundreds of local Nepalis. They sang the Nepal national anthem to start the festivities, and later sang this lovely song:

Here are the star performers, close up:

April 15, 2014

From Johns Hopkins: A New Technique to Protect Dopamine-Producing Cells from Deteriorating?

On April 10, the journal Cell reported an interesting development: Researchers at Johns Hopkins identified – and then disabled -- a cellular mechanism in human neurons that triggers a particular type of Parkinson’s disease. The scientists think their discovery could lead to new treatments for people with PD.

The breakthrough was a long time in coming. Building on many years of work to find a biological cause for Parkinson's, the Hopkins scientists hope their new discovery could eventually produce techniques to retard or even prevent the deterioration of dopamine-producing neurons -- the process which leads to PD.

Mutations in the Enzyme LRRK2
About ten years ago, researchers identified a link between Parkinson’s and a mutation in the enzyme "leucine-rich repeat kinase 2" (LRRK2), pronounced “lark2,” which strengthened the notion that PD might have some type of genetic origin. 

At that time, Dr. Ted Dawson (professor of neurology and director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cells Engineering) and his wife, Dr. Valina Dawson (professor of neurology and member of the Institute for Cell Engineering) cloned the enzyme, and discovered that it was actually a "kinase" -- a specific type of enzyme that transfers phosphate groups to proteins, and even manipulates the proteins, turning them on and off.

In time, researchers learned they could slow the deterioration of dopamine-producing neurons by obstructing this kinase activity in mutated LRKK2 enzymes. Conversely, they could also speed up the death of those brain cells by activating that kinase process to cell proteins.

But there was a catch: scientists didn’t know specifically which protein(s) LRKK2 was affecting. So – as Dawkins describes it – he “went fishing,” using LRKK2 as his “bait” to identify the protein(s).

April 14, 2014

I'm Taking the Day Off. But You Should Watch These Videos

A bright sunny day with temperature in the low 80s! The old rocking chair on the back porch, the Sunday New York Times, our neighborhood farmers' market, a friend and his family stopping by after their battle with the Cherry Blossom Festival mobs -- all seemed more compelling than sitting at the computer to write a blog post.

But I know my readers would be devastated if they didn't get a post today. So I dredged these clips out of my files. I had another reason for saving this first one: I need to look at it periodically to remind myself of what I should be doing:

April 11, 2014

Why the Latest Health Study Is Rarely the Answer

Last week, I was delighted to report on a study that suggested overweight seniors may actually live longer. Wouldn't you know it, but a few days later I received a health newsletter that threw water on this idea of "benign overweight."

Then, a few days later, I got the April 2014 issue of the Nutrition Action Health Newsletter. Its cover story questioned why new health studies seem to flip-flop so often.

Naturally, when a new study overturns everything we've ever heard (e.g., overweight seniors live longer), it garners more press than studies that simply repeat the common wisdom. Headlines tout "earthshaking findings" and downplay humdrum findings. We see this pattern everywhere in the media.

The newsletter cover story gives other examples that explain this flip-flopping.

Cause and Effect Might Be Reversed
For example, NBC's Today Show featured this headline on its website: "Drinking diet sodas makes you eat more." To support the claim, the study reported that overweight or obese diet soda drinkers consumed as many calories as drinkers of sugary sodas. 

But that fact doesn't mean diet sodas cause people to eat more or gain weight. Overweight people tend to consume more diet beverages because they are trying to lose weight.

April 10, 2014

Does Cognitive Training Help Healthy Seniors?

Recently published results from the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study showed that healthy seniors who receive formal cognitive training  may experience some reduced decline in reasoning and processing speed -- but not memory.

That same study revealed that training in each of those three functions did not meaningfully improve scores on performance of real-world cognitive tasks, a result that would have been especially meaningful.

Here’s how the study worked: Over 2,800 normal, healthy seniors (65 and up) from six American cities were recruited for the study, which began in 1998. Participants were randomized to receive training in only ONE of these three areas:
  • reasoning (training in solving problems that contain serial patterns)
  • processing speed (exercises in visual search and analyzing increasingly complex information presented ever more briefly), or 
  • memory (instruction and exercises aimed at improving verbal episodic memory
Others were part of a no-contact control group.

The three active groups received ten training sessions of 60-75 minutes each over a period of about six weeks. In addition, 39% of the subjects undergoing training received four “booster sessions” -- which targeted their specific cognitive training domain -- after 11 months and again after 35 months of the initial training.

April 9, 2014

Urinary Incontinence: A Reminder, a New Option, and a Tip

I'm handling my incontinence the same way I've always dealt with issues in my life: erratically. I've always been like this. I identify a problem, study it, craft a solution, dedicate myself to following through, lose interest, and move on to something else.

Incontinence came into my life after my cancerous prostate was removed in 1995. The problem subsided after a few months, and I became much more focused on the other major consequence of the operation -- impotence.

Now, with age and Parkinson's, incontinence is back and steadily becoming a bigger problem. Four years ago, I had some success doing the BIG exercises for Parkinson's, with the help of my physical therapist. I had several sessions designed specifically to help with incontinence. They helped a lot. But, as is my pattern, I slacked off on the exercises and -- surprise! -- the problem returned, more troublesome than ever. For about half a year now, I've been using protective absorbent pads.

A Reminder: Kegel Exercises Work. I Just Need to Do Them!
If you research incontinence, one of the first recommendations will be the Kegels -- exercises to strengthen the urinary sphincter and pelvic floor muscles that control urination. When these exercises are done correctly and regularly, they can really improve bladder control.

April 8, 2014

Chocolate News: Obesity and Diabetes Fighter

Could eating chocolate prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes? An April 2 press release from the American Chemical Society describes a recent study at the Department of Food Science and Technology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University that suggests it might.

We’ve heard in recent years that dark chocolate seems to possess special qualities that might boost cardiovascular health, improve thinking, lower blood pressure, and decrease appetite. Can we now add control of weight and blood glucose levels to the list of chocolate’s benefits?

Chocolate -- like grapes and tea – is rich in antioxidant flavanols. But cocoa, the active ingredient in chocolate, contains different types of flavanols. Which of various antioxidants in cocoa carry the most beneficial flavanols?

Another Rodent Study
To find out, Andrew P. Nielson and his Virginia colleagues fed groups of mice different diets, including high-fat and low-fat diets, and high-fat diets supplemented with three different kinds of flavanols: monomeric, oligomeric or polymeric procyandins (PCs). I'd need a PhD in chemisty to understand the differences.

In addition to their food, the mice received 25 milligrams of these flavanols each day for every kilogram of their body weight.

The researchers discovered that adding the oligomeric procyanidins to high-fat diets (yes, only high fat diets) worked best to keep the rodents’ weight down and improve their glucose tolerance – a result that could help prevent type 2 diabetes. 

April 7, 2014

Uncertainty, Parkinson's and the Support Group: Guest Post from Leon Paparella

Leon is the treasured moderator of my Parkinson's disease support group. He has a special talent for getting everyone in the group involved. He keeps us focused on how we're feeling, not on our our pills or pains. Leon has had PD since 1987, and his experience with the disease is invaluable to our group.

At our regular group meeting last Friday, Leon read the paper, below. I asked him if I could share it on this blog, and he kindly agreed.

An earlier paper of Leon's became a very popular guest post. In that piece, he asked an interesting question: Did his overprotective parents -- and his consequent struggle for independence -- contribute to his inner strength and "fighting spirit," thus making him a high-functioning person with PD through all these years?

April 4, 2014

My Parkinson's Honeymoon Is Over. What Now?

I'd like to get a divorce from my Parkinson's. But that's not possible today, and I see nothing in the research pipeline offering hope for a possible divorce in my remaining years. I'll just have to do the best I can to manage this non-love affair with Parky.

Someone is muttering, "Block that metaphor!" So I'll stop.

I haven't been seriously handicapped during my five-year Parkinson's honeymoon. So I'll continue the therapies that have clearly helped me. I intend to remain CEO of my own healthcare for as long as I can.

Proven Therapies that Work
Here are some of the things that have helped me the most:

April 3, 2014

After Five Years, My Parkinson's Disease Honeymoon Is Over

Over the last few months, I've become convinced that my "Parkinson's honeymoon" is coming to an end. Correction: the honeymoon has ended.

Parkinson's Primer 
First, a quick refresher on Parkinson's disease, the progressive degenerative neurological disease that affects more than 1.5 million Americans.

PD is characterized by slow movement, walking difficulties, posture instability, rigidity or stiffness in the arms, legs, and/or neck. The most common red flag -- the symptom the general public most often associates with PD -- is the resting hand tremor. But a sizable minority of people with Parkinson's (PWPs) don't have that tremor. I'm included in that group. For us, postural and gait difficulties are the biggest problem.

Secondary symptoms may include depression, confusion, difficulty speaking and/or swallowing, and facial "masking," a PD indicator in which facial muscles become immobilized, creating a blank expression. This masking, particularly when it's combined with the soft voice symptom, can create real communication problems for PWPs, since others often misinterpret the symptom as disinterest or depression.

The drug levodopa -- which the brain converts to dopamine -- is the standard treatment for PD. Dopamine is a brain chemical used by nerve cells to control muscle movement. With Parkinson's, those dopamine-producing brain cells slowly die.

Unfortunately, PWPs on extended levodopa treatment often end up with dyskinesia, the uncontrollable "thrashing about" we see in Michael J. Fox, Muhammad Ali,, and other public figures with PD. People often assume that Parkinson's creates dyskinesia, when it's really a serious side effect of the medication.

The Parkinson's Honeymoon
Newly diagnosed PWPs typically experience a "honeymoon" of three to five years, during which side effects aren't too disabling. Mine lasted over five years, so I shouldn't complain.

April 2, 2014

Seniors Who Pack Some Extra Pounds May Live Longer

Here’s some news I was happy to see: people 65 and older may actually live longer if they carry some extra weight, as I do.

For years, people have been considered “overweight” -- according to the World Health Organization (WHO) – if their Body Mass Index (BMI) falls between 25 and 30. Anything over 30 is considered obese.

Without making you feel you’re back in algebra class, BMI equals your weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in meters (BMI = kg/m2). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services makes it a little easier for those of us who don't use the metric system and don't fancy doing arithmetic. Here's NIH's BMI calculator. All you need to do is plug in your height (feet and inches) and weight (pounds).

Researchers at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, collected and then re-evaluated data from studies published between 1990 and 2013 that had analyzed links between BMI and mortality in people 65 and older. They tracked that correlation for over 200,000 seniors over an average span of 12 years.

In the March issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Deakin and her team published their findings about seniors and BMI. Among their conclusions:
  • If BMI fell between 23.0 and 23.9 – on the high side of the WHO’s “overweight” category – there was no increased risk of death.
  • If BMI fell between 21 and 22 – in the “normal” range, there was a 12% increase in death risk.
  • If BMI fell between 20 and 20.9 – on the lower end of “normal” – there was a 19% increase in death risk.
  • By contrast, if BMI fells between 33 and 33.9 – on the high side of “obese” – there was (only) an 8% increase in death risk.

April 1, 2014

Have We Found the Chemical “Missing Link” to Prevent Parkinson’s?

Scientists at the University of Dundee in Scotland have just discovered a “chemical messenger” that might play a role in treating – or even preventing – Parkinson’s. Their work is published in Biochemical Journal.

Dr. Miratul Muqit and his team at Dundee – who made this new finding -- had previously identified the role played by two different genes, PINK1 and Parkin. PINK1, the team found, somehow “switches on” the Parkin enzyme, which protects neurons from deteriorating and dying – the origin of Parkinson’s disease.

If mutations occur that disrupt that key molecular process, the brain cell protection the genes provide is greatly compromised, and cells die. The scientists just didn’t know exactly how the two genes interacted chemically to create that protection.

Now they know.

Dr. Muqit explained it this way: "Our new work suggests a chemical messenger called phospho-ubiquitin, is protective and can’t be made in Parkinson’s patients with genetic mutations in PINK1. This leaves their brain cells vulnerable to stress and likely to trigger cell death."

The implications are clear: if scientists can replicate the structure of phosphor-ubiquitin and introduce it into the neural network in order to activate the Parkin gene to create the protective enzyme, Parkinson’s disease (and perhaps other neurological conditions) might be prevented.