Michael J. Fox and Parkinson's Disease - His Story


Michael J. Fox was first diagnosed with Early-onset Parkinson's disease in 1991

by Stacey Combs

When was Michael first diagnosed with Parkinson's disease?

Michael J. Fox was first diagnosed with Early-onset Parkinson's disease in 1991. He went public about his disease in 1998, with an interview in People magazine.

How does his disease affect his friends, family and career?

Michael is married to former actress Tracy Pollan. They are the parents of 4 children, 3 daughters and a son. In his book, "Lucky Man", he admitted that he had asked his friends and family to keep his illness a secret, until he was ready to speak about it publicly. For the most part, he spends an enormous amount of time with his children, helping them with their school work, getting to know who their friends are, and talking about their different clubs and activities. Michael says that family has always been important to him, even in his childhood. Always surrounded by his relatives, gave him a sense of strength and well-being, as it does now.

What types of treatment has he pursued?

The average person with Parkinson's might take as many as 19 pills a day. But Michael only takes five. One of them is called Levadopa, (L-Dopa for short) which remains the standard for treating the symptoms of P.D. But it has a noticeable side effect, called dyskenisia. Dyskenisia is the impairment of voluntary movements resulting in fragmented or jerky motions (as in Parkinson's disease). The most recent treatment was a thalamotomy. This type of surgery is performed by drilling a hole through the skull and probes are carefully inserted into the area of the brain which contains the thalamus. The patient is awake during this procedure and their movements are monitored, as the surgeons use the probe to laser away the dying cells of this area. This surgery is very risky, as there is no way to predict whether healthy cells are destroyed in the process.

What is he doing now?

Even though Michael's last season on the sitcom, Spin City was in 2000, he quickly regrouped to form what is now one of the most important career moves in his life. He founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, whose sole focus is to fund research for this disease. From the year 2000 to 2005, nearly $70 million dollars has been raised to help fight Parkinson's disease.

The foundation supports more than 200 Parkinson's research projects in 18 countries. They currently have 87 Fox Foundation active grants in the research community and are looking forward to the completion of three clinical trials, with hopes that they will yield positive results.

One of the trials involves the use of gene therapy. In a Parkinson's patient, many of the brain cells that control movement are dead or dying. Dr. Raymond Bartus is leading a team of neuroscientists at Ceregene Incorporated in San Diego , trying to "regrow" those cells. They take a virus and inject it with a gene they've produced. The virus is inserted into a part of the brain called the putamen, where it disintegrates, thus releasing the gene into the brain. In theory, the gene will act as a kind of "fertilizer" for those dormant cells and stop, if not reverse, the disease.

Also, last summer, Michael went to Capitol Hill once again,(he has been there twice before to speak about PD research); this time to bolster support for a bill called HR-810, The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which would expand federal funding for research on the surplus of frozen embryos. The activist and advocate for Parkinson's stated that being vocal about his illness is giving him the chance to help fight and cure this incurable disease.



The Michael J. Fox Foundation Website


"Lucky Man", Author: Michael J. Fox

Ladies Home Journal - "The Ties That Bind" - September 2006

* Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, the picture in this article was obtained from Wikipedia for the sole purpose of writing about Mr. Fox's life, work and advocacy.

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