What Do Health Awareness Campaigns Really Do?

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What Do Health Awareness Campaigns Really DoYou’ve probably seen the Parkinson’s awareness commercials featuring Michael J. Fox. He informs the viewer about the disease and then gives some information about how they can help spread awareness or generate funding or donations for research. If you haven’t seen these commercials in particular, you can likely imagine what I’m talking about because the same type of commercial exists for countless conditions. The funds raised through these awareness campaigns and other avenues help facilitate new research, ultimately leading to a better understanding of these conditions, the development of new technologies, and the discovery of further prevention and treatment techniques.

I’ve always wondered exactly what the outcomes of each of these campaigns might be. Well, I recently read about one such development—a state-of-the-art gene chip called “NeuroX.” This chip recently helped researchers discover six previously unreported genetic risk factors that might cause Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s is a very complex neurodegenerative disease that’s largely misunderstood. It affects millions of people worldwide, causing trembling limbs, stiffness, slow movements, and posture problems. In its more advanced stages, patients might experience difficulty walking, talking, or completing simple, everyday tasks.

This new study that I came across, largely funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), looked at data from existing genome studies to examine similar variants, along with less noticeable differences in the genetic codes of more than 100,000 people. The studies featured nearly 14,000 people with Parkinson’s and more than 95,000 control participants. Through this data, the researchers were able to identify common genetic variants that may help determine if and how a person develops Parkinson’s. The study pointed out that the more genetic variants a person has, the greater their risk of developing the disease.

The results were then cross-referenced with the NeuroX chip, which contains roughly 24,000 common genetic variants associated with a number or neurodegenerative disorders.

The chip highlighted the common variants for Parkinson’s, shining some light on new proteins and brain chemicals to focus on in further research. This information also helps us get a better grasp on why this condition occurs, while hopefully leading to new prevention and treatment techniques.

I’ve heard people complain on occasion about how various groups have been collecting money to treat diseases and they rarely see the results. (I’ll admit, there are times when I share this sentiment.) But this is a big result. Furthermore, treatments for conditions like cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and others have greatly improved as more money has become available for research. Such research breakthroughs aren’t going to stop at these Parkinson’s/NeuroX studies.

Source for Today’s Article:
NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Six New Genetic Risk Factors for Parkinson’s Found,” ScienceDaily web site, July 27, 2014; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140727165714.htm.

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