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Our Research Team:
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Beate Ritz, M.D., Ph.D., is a physician and the Director of the Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Program at UCLA. She devoted her career to studying environmental causes of diseases with the hope to prevent future exposures and diseases. Her team works with large data sets linking environmental factors and health in California.
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Jeff Bronstein, M.D., Ph.D., is the Director of the UCLA Movement disorder program. He treats Parkinson's patients at UCLA and is in charge of clinical Parkinson's research in Neurology at UCLA.
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The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) has outstanding research facilities and labs, assembled a strong team of researchers devoted to the study of Parkinson's disease, and secured public funding for a research project in your community. However, only with the input and help from the community of Parkinson's patients will we be able to address your questions about the disease.
 
WHAT is the PEG Study?
 
A five-year study of the links between Parkinson's disease (PD), Environment, and Genes.

A collaboration between the

UCLA School of Public Health,
UCLA Movement Disorder Clinic,
UCLA Center for Brain Genetics,
and most importantly
local health care providers in Kern, Fresno, and Tulare counties

Funded by the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the PEG Study is the first large federally funded PD study to focus on rural populations.

 
WHY are we studying PD in rural counties?
 
For almost 20 years now researchers have repeatedly reported that Parkinson's disease (PD) is more common in rural than urban populations, but most PD studies in the US have been conducted in Metropolitan areas. Recently, animal and human tissue studies suggested that some pesticides are able to kill brain cells that produce dopamine, the substance that Parkinson's patient's brains lack. The loss of almost all dopamine producing brain cells causes PD. Researchers trying to identify possible causes of PD studied agricultural chemicals and well-water contamination but to date this research has been far from conclusive.
 
HOW does the body get rid of toxins we encounter in our environment?
 
Advances in molecular biology taught us that the human body is equipped with proteins (enzymes) capable of ridding our body from most environmental substances, natural as well as man-made ones. Thus, our body may be able to quickly eliminate certain environmental substances. If certain enzymes are working more slowly, however, substances may accumulate and be toxic. Similar mechanisms are responsible for the fact that some people are especially sensitivity to prescription drugs: physicians and patients have known for a long time that the same dose of medication does not have the same effect on every patient. Some people may experience terrible side effects and need to lower their dose while others may tolerate the medication well and even may need higher doses.
 
HOW do genes fit into this picture?
 
While everybody has enzymes that get rid of chemicals in our body, our genetic code determines how these proteins exactly look like and how well they function, just like our genes cause every human to look different from another one although we are all human. Thus, depending on our inheritance, these enzymes may work slightly faster or slower in one person than in another, like different size engines in cars.
It is important to note that these genes and enzymes will not cause disease unless a person is exposed to a toxic substance through water, air or food. This mechanism is what epidemiologists call a gene-environment interaction.
UCLA has recently established a Center for Brain Genetics providing us with knowledgeable experts and state-of the art technology for genetic and gene-environment interaction research.
 
WHAT are we trying to do?
 
To address the question whether some environmental substances may cause PD in susceptible individuals, the NIH has funded our UCLA research team to conduct an epidemiologic case-control study of PD patients in three rural Californian counties. Over a four-year period, we expect to collect 400 Parkinson's disease cases referred to us by local neurologists, Parkinson's support groups or through self-referral.
For each case, we will select a control from the general population and - if possible - a sibling control. Interviews will be conducted with all study subjects to find out where each person worked and lived and what toxins they may have been exposed to throughout their lives.
We hope that all of these pieces of information along with genetic analyses of collected blood will allow us to put the PD puzzle together.
We are currently enrolling study subjects!!

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UCLA IRB # 98-05-030-21
Expiration date: