As the genetic keys are found, those with a greater likelihood of developing the disease can take steps to reduce the chances, said Dennis Dickson, a neuropathologist and the center’s director.
The clinic’s Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson’s Disease Research has received federal funding since 1999. But in recent years, that funding has dropped to about $500,000 a year, said Dennis Dickson, a neuropathologist and the center’s director.
Not only does this grant more than double the money the clinic has been receiving, it guarantees it for five years.
“With the tight funding, we’ve been limping along,” he said. “It puts a lot of pressure if you have to apply for a new grant every year.”
Although the Mayo Clinic does treat Parkinson’s patients, the primary purpose of the Udall Center, one of 10 such centers in the country, is research.
Dickson said that at one time, Parkinson’s was thought to be caused by environmental factors such as exposure to a toxin. But now research has found genetic causes. Mayo’s Udall Center itself has identified 10 genes connected to Parkinson’s disease or related neurodegenerative disorders.
He said there’s not a lot that doctors can do once a patient has a disease like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s because the brain cannot repair itself very well. So the emphasis is on prevention.
For example, while exercise is obviously beneficial to everyone, it’s even more vital to someone with a genetic tendency toward Parkinson’s since it’s shown to help prevent the onset of the disease.
Dickson said that about 25 employees at Mayo are connected in some way with the grant, though it only pays part of the individual salaries.
The increased funding, he said, will allow for more people to study more brain tissue to identify the genetic culprits.
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