3rd Place

 

Cameron Springer

Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School

Teacher: Carol Stapanowich

 

 

Recent research demonstrates that certain types of PD [Parkinson's disease] are inevitable regardless of environmental factors, but most forms of the disease result from the compilation of negative environmental stimuli and genetic mutations.

The PARK-1 genes promote the production of alpha-synuclein proteins (Gwinn). These normally harmless proteins cause brain cell death when found in high concentrations. In fact, Lewy bodies composed of alpha-synuclein accumulate and destroy dopaminergic neurons (Gwinn). Interestingly, the genes triggering this accumulation rarely mutate somatically, implying that mutations on the PARK-1 gene are almost always hereditary (Proukakis). Furthermore, the individuals who contract genetic PD in relation to PARK-1 come from varied backgrounds and differing environmental circumstances (Golbe). Genetically induced PD generally becomes apparent at an earlier age and destroys motor function as well as mental capacity far more quickly than “idiopathic” forms of the disease (Golbe).

In one of the most intriguing discoveries related to PD, a group of young people inadvertently provided a central clue in determining the environmental causes of PD (Tanner). While using a recreational designer drug, the youths consumed “a street made narcotic metabolite (MPTP)” (Strickland). This substance, which turned out to be remarkably similar to many common herbicides and pesticides, proved highly destructive to dopamine receptors in the substantia nigra and caused acute Parkinsonian symptoms in the users (Strickland,Tanner). Researchers subsequently studied the relationship between pesticide use and PD occurrence (Tanner) and discovered a direct correlation between the use of the pesticides and the incidence of PD (Tanner, Strickland).

Despite recent advancements, research has been unsuccessful in discovering the exact etiologies of PD. Though researchers have gained a broad understanding of both genetic and environmental factors which contribute to PD, the relationship between the two has eluded researchers for nearly two centuries. Currently, the only consistent link between all PD cases is the loss of dopamine producing neurons. In the future, the causes of this dreaded disease will hopefully be better understood and appropriately classified in order to expedite the treatment of patients.