October 2017: News from the University of Dundee, Scotland


Breakthrough in uncovering the 3D structure of and enzyme, PINK 1, may allow scientists to start working on drugs that allow the enzyme to function properly and slow the progression of Parkinson’s or even stop it entirely.  

Mutations is the gene encoding PINK1 have been identified in patients with early-onset Parkinson’s alerting researchers to it as a potential therapeutic target. PINK1 encodes a kinase enzyme that plays an important role in protecting brain cells against stress. Its main role is to detect damage to the mitochondria of cells which act as the energy center. A protective pathway using two key proteins – ubiquitin and Parkin – is switched on, which reduces damage. In Parkinson’s sufferers, PINK1 loses its protective function, which leads to the degeneration of the cells in the brain that control movement. Understanding the structure and inner workings could help scientists to find a way to turn the protective function back on.

From the Cleveland Clinic: Early Warning Signs of Parkinson’s

Only a neurologist can diagnose Parkinson’s. Motor problems are quickly recognizable – tremors, rigidity, stiffness and slowness are hallmark signs along with balance and gait problems. But Parkinson’s symptoms start long before these problems emerge:

Stage 1: Parkinson’s attacks the base of the brain stem – the medulla initially. This may cause constipation and a loss of sense of smell.

Stage 2: Next is nerve deterioration in the pons – the brain’s message center leading to depression and REM sleep disorder.

Stage 3: Tremor and shuffle now appear because the disease is attacking the part of the brain responsible for movement.


Of course, not everyone experiencing these symptoms is at risk for Parkinson’s but if you have any of these symptoms along with the following risk factors, it would be a good idea to make an appointment with a Neurologist:

First degree relative with Parkinson’s onset before the age of 60

Resting tremor, stiffness, slowness, gait/balance problems

Repeated head trauma

REM sleep disorder


News from Colorado:

Says Medical Marijuana eases tremors for patients with Parkinson’s. Isreali researchers have seen a significant decrease in symptoms and an improvement in fine motor skills.

However, news from Canada:

Contrary to earlier reports, McGill University researcher found no benefit to coffee drinking. Earlier studies has shown possible short-term benefits but looking at the longer term, any benefits dissipate quickly.



October 2017: News from the Cleveland Clinic

Researchers have enrolled close to 700 mixed martial arts fighters and boxers, both active and retired, over the past six years to learn to identify early signs of trauma-induced brain damage from subtle changes in blood chemistry, brain imaging, and performance tests – changes that may show up decades before visible symptoms such as cognitive impairment, depression and impulsive behavior. By repeating a series of tests year after year, they hope to pick up changes that might predict development of CTE.

The study has identified that active fighters have higher levels of two brain proteins, called neurofilament light and tau, compared to retired fighters or non-fighters. It is unclear if those signal a higher risk but that does provide a focus for further research. Additionally, fighters with greater exposure to head trauma have lower brain volumes and a cavity in their brain. This study is in early stages so we must be cautious in over interpreting changes as signs of injury or damage.

News from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)

TBI is unique in that the symptoms may be misdiagnosed as behavioral health issues while at the same time TBI patients are at risk for comorbid depression and addiction disorders. When considering risks, the behavioral health of a TBI patient must be evaluated both as a symptom of the injury and as a pre-existing condition. Estimates are that as many as half of brain injured individuals have some history of substance abuse disorder and about 30% of injuries happen while under the influence of alcohol or substances. In addition clinical teams must evaluate patients for attention deficit, learning disabilities, depression, stress and pain. Suicide risk should also be assessed.


September 2017: NFL Players and Brain Injuries

Published earlier this summer was the news that brain injuries were found in 99% of the brains donated by NFL players, 21% of high school players and 21% of college football players. This clearly indicates that further study and monitoring or injury should have a high priority in all football programs for all ages. 


July 14, 2017: TBI and Dementia: Link or no link?

A study by Finnish researchers comparing medical notes of working-age individuals under the age of 65 with mild or moderate to severe TBI who had developed dementia, Parkinson’s disease or ALS. They found the incidence of dementia in moderate to severe TBI patients was similar to that found in the general population. Since dementia occurs primarily in the elderly, this means that TBI shifts the risk from old age to working age. Data in this study was only available for TBI patients who had been admitted to hospital with a diagnosis of neurodegenerative symptoms possibly missing other patients. A study in Taiwan concurs with the Finnish study but numerous other studies have not been able to establish cause and effect which means there could be other biological mechanisms involved causing neurodegeneration.

Most studies agree that there is a need for long-term monitoring for TBI patients, especially those who have experienced moderate or severe TBI. There is also a call for more accurate diagnostic criteria that would allow physicians to spot the onset of TBI-associated neurodegeneration earlier. 


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