Parkinsons study seeks Ashkenazi Jews

In order to better study genetic mutations associated with Parkinson’s disease, an arm of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research is studying a mutation among people of Ashkenazi descent — and seeking participation of Jews in the Bay Area who may carry that mutation.

The observational study is being conducted through the Parkinson’s Progres-sion Markers Initiative.

“We are looking for biomarkers associated with the progression of Parkinson’s disease,” said Dr. Caroline Tanner, a neurologist at the Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center in Sunnyvale. Tanner is heading up the PPMI locally. “There is a long period of disease progression before people actually show symptoms. If we can identify a biomarker for those at risk, we can intervene more effectively,” she added.

A biomarker is a physical characteristic of disease, much as high cholesterol signals cardiovascular problems. As of now, no biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease have been identified.

Certain genetic mutations more common among Jewish people of Ashkenazi descent (and various other groups) can increase risk of diseases like Tay Sachs, breast cancer and Parkinson’s disease, according to a PPMI press release.

Tanner noted that having this mutation of the LRRK2 gene does not mean one will develop Parkinson’s, but she said a greater understanding of the biology of those with this mutation or who suffer from Parkinson’s may lead to new therapies and strategies. Parkinson’s disease is treatable but incurable.

The PPMI is taking place at 32 locales internationally. Tanner says those interested in participating, no matter where they live, should inquire. Volunteers do not take any experimental drug or placebo. For more information, visit or call (888) 830-6299.