nocamels: Israel a living laboratory for the study of Parkinson’s
Professor Nir Giladi, Director of the Neurology Department of Tel Aviv Sourasky Center, starts off by explaining that Parkinson’s disease is a multi-dimensional disorder that develops later in life, but which can in many cases be detected early on using genetic patterns.“We know today that environmental factors as well as lifestyle and genetics influence the development of Parkinson’s disease,” Giladi tells NoCamels. He points out that according to various studies, “Among Ashkenazi Jews [of European origin], 35 percent of Parkinson’s patients have developed the disorder due to known genetic mutations. This is the highest percentage in any population worldwide, making Israel a unique living laboratory for understanding Parkinson’s disease.”
Due to the large volume of Parkinson’s patients living in Israel, about 20,000 according to rough estimates, researchers like Giladi have been able to create a method of tracking the genetic likelihood of the neurodegenerative condition spreading within a family group. Once a patient is officially diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, the center asks for permission to get in touch with his or her immediate relatives, “This way, we can follow people at risk. Every year we have a handful of people who were considered healthy when they were initially examined, but became Parkinson’s patients later on.”
In his research, Giladi found that people who contract some of the early stage symptoms of the disease, which include slowness of movement, rigidity and a resting tremor, compensate the performance of the brain because the individual is forced to use other networks in order to keep functioning normally. While this makes sense, it is also part of the reason why Parkinson’s patients are often diagnosed only 30 years after they actually contract the neurological condition: “The concept of healthy versus sick is becoming vague because we have now very sensitive tools to detect abnormalities. We can test people who seem perfectly healthy and detect subtle but important changes.” These changes can, for example, be seen in an arm swing, walking patterns (known as gait) or the way the brain solves problems.
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