At least 50,000 people in America are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year and that number is expected to increase as the population ages.
Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder caused by the death of dopamine producing cells in the brain. The symptoms include impaired movement, rigid muscles and impaired posture.
Wichita State University biochemistry professor Kandatege Wimalesena is leading a research effort to find some answers.
“The problem is, it is age dependent," he says. "It is a long-term disease so very difficult to do research and find out what is going wrong or what is happening even in this disease.”
A drug called L-Dopa is used to treat the symptoms, but the cause of the disease is still unknown. Dr. Wimalesena's hope is to find a way to prevent it.
“Parkinson’s disease is irreversible," says Wimalesena. "You cannot cure the Parkinson’s disease after you get it. At the end, it will not respond to this kind of treatment.”
Much of Dr. Wimalesena’s research centers on environmental toxins, including a molecule referred to as MPP+. However, he has learned that some industrial chemicals that are similar in composition are even more toxic to dopamine cells.
He is also researching compounds that may protect cells from chemical toxicity.