Cleveland Clinic aids Michael J. Fox effort to find Parkinson's biomarkers

We have reported before (here and here) about a five-year study to find elusive biomarkers for Parkinson's disease. The $40 million Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) is sponsored by a foundation that bears the name of perhaps the most-famous Parkinson's disease patient today, actor Michael J. Fox. And it appears as if the famous name pays off in terms of publicity for this important research. The Cleveland Plain Dealer mentions the "Back to the Future" star's congressional testimony for stem-cell research funding in a feature on the foundation's work.

The news is that the Cleveland Clinic has been selected as a site for the PPMI. "Newly diagnosed Parkinson's disease patients throughout Ohio can now participate in this observational study and be a part of an important step in seeking a cure for the disease," the Cleveland Clinic announced in a news release.

The Plain Dealer powerfully illustrates the frustration involved in solving Parkinson's many riddles by featuring Parkinson's sufferer Jim Atkinson, 66. He and his doctors can only guess as to how or why Atkinson has the disease. He speculates that the cause could have been a knock in the head he received during a baseball game back in high school. Or, perhaps, it was the fertilizer he was exposed to on his family's farm. Or there could be some unknown cause hidden in his genes.

Finding biomarkers could not only help solve Atkinson's dilemma, they could also help test which drugs work. "Finding a biomarker would be a major game changer, because it could establish a critical endpoint for knowing the effectiveness of drugs. These are concrete ways to demonstrate that a treatment is, or is not, impacting the disease process in Parkinson's patients, as opposed to simply impacting disease symptoms," Cleveland Clinic's Hubert Fernandez said in a news release.

"We can't keep testing drugs on large sets of patients over long periods of time and finding equivocal or negative results. It takes too long, it costs too much to conduct the research, and too many lives are involved. If we had a biomarker that correlates with disease progression, we would need fewer patients, less time, less funding and we'd be able to help more people faster, which is the most important part."

- read the release from the Cleveland Clinic
- and the Plain Dealer story