200 years since Parkinson's disease was first identified

April 5, 2017, University of Bristol
Front cover of The Enlightened Mr Parkinson. Credit: Icon Books

World Parkinson's Disease Day [11 April] is held every year on Parkinson's birthday to raise awareness of the disease and the research being done to alleviate it. To mark 200 years since James Parkinson first identified the condition named after him, a new biography of this forgotten man will be published.

In 1817 James Parkinson (1755-1824) wrote his pioneering Essay on the Shaking Palsy, which first defined the condition we now call Parkinson's disease. The symptoms identified by Parkinson two centuries ago are still used to diagnose the disease today. Although unable to identify a cause for the condition, Parkinson's remarkably accurate description of the symptoms, and the disease in all its different stages, eventually led to it being named in his honour.

The Enlightened Mr Parkinson by Dr Cherry Lewis, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Bristol, tells the story of Parkinson's life as an apothecary surgeon (similar to today's GP) in Hoxton, then a village on the outskirts of London. It was a time when epidemics festered in the dirty and overcrowded tenements, was fifty percent, and no anaesthetics were available for those unfortunate enough to require surgery. Smallpox killed ten per cent of the population, so when Edward Jenner discovered a vaccine, Parkinson worked with him to establish vaccination stations across London.

Cherry Lewis said: "Parkinson was not only a pioneer in medicine but also internationally famous for his works on fossils. He revealed an unknown world, populated with 'hyenas the size of bears' and 'enormous marine animals', all of which both enthralled and terrified his readers. His exquisitely illustrated Organic Remains of a Former World placed the study of fossils on the scientific map of Britain before the subject even had a name.

"When awarded The Royal College of Surgeons' first Gold Medal, it was not for his medical publications that Parkinson was honoured, nor even his Essay on the Shaking Palsy, but for his ground-breaking work on fossils."

Parkinson became a political activist after the French Revolution, which many in Britain supported. He wrote numerous outspoken publications which harangued a corrupt and incompetent Government using the pseudonym 'Old Hubert', for many were imprisoned and even transported to Australia for such seditious activities. When caught up in an alleged plot to kill 'mad' King George III, Parkinson put his own life on the line trying to save his friends.

It was almost 50 years after Parkinson's death before the significance of his Essay was fully appreciated and the shaking palsy renamed 'Parkinson's disease' in his memory.

Explore further: Getting closer to treatment for Parkinson's

Related Stories

Getting closer to treatment for Parkinson's

January 23, 2017
More than 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson's disease. The cause of Parkinson's disease is unknown and thus no effective treatments exist. A study from the University of Bergen (UiB) suggests that the secret of the ...

Finding a treatment for Parkinson's disease dementia

September 2, 2015
University of Adelaide neuroscientists are leading a world-first study into a form of dementia experienced by many Parkinson's disease suffers, which is expected to ultimately lead to a new therapy for the condition.

The effects of laxatives may provide new clues concerning Parkinson's disease

May 19, 2016
In a recent retrospective analysis, investigators discovered that the year-on-year increase in rigidity found in Parkinson's disease flattened off with the regular use of laxatives to manage constipation.

How protein fragments associated with Alzheimer's could trigger Parkinson's

October 12, 2016
Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases are different neurodegenerative conditions that can sometimes affect the same person, which has led scientists to investigate possible links between the two. Now one team, reporting in ...

Cellular defect may be linked to Parkinson's: study

September 8, 2016
(HealthDay)—Researchers say they've discovered a cellular defect that may be common to all forms of Parkinson's disease.

Briton who could 'smell' Parkinson's prompts new research

October 22, 2015
The widow of a man who suffered with Parkinson's has triggered new research this week into the condition after she discovered she could "smell" the disease.

Recommended for you

The puzzle of a mutated gene lurking behind many Parkinson's cases

November 15, 2018
Genetic mutations affecting a single gene play an outsized role in Parkinson's disease. The mutations are generally responsible for the mass die-off of a set of dopamine-secreting, or dopaminergic, nerve cells in the brain ...

Researchers find inhibiting one protein destroys toxic clumps seen in Parkinson's disease

November 14, 2018
A defining feature of Parkinson's disease is the clumps of alpha-synuclein protein that accumulate in the brain's motor control area, destroying dopamine-producing neurons. Natural processes can't clear these clusters, known ...

Scalpel-free surgery enhances quality of life for Parkinson's patients, study finds

November 9, 2018
A high-tech form of brain surgery that replaces scalpels with sound waves improved quality of life for people with Parkinson's disease that has resisted other forms of treatment, a new study has found.

Singing may reduce stress, improve motor function for people with Parkinson's disease

November 7, 2018
Singing may provide benefits beyond improving respiratory and swallow control in people with Parkinson's disease, according to new data from Iowa State University researchers.

Scientists overturn odds to make Parkinson's discovery

November 7, 2018
Scientists at the University of Dundee have confirmed that a key cellular pathway that protects the brain from damage is disrupted in Parkinson's patients, raising the possibility of new treatments for the disease.

Road to cell death more clearly identified for Parkinson's disease

November 1, 2018
In experiments performed in mice, Johns Hopkins researchers report they have identified the cascade of cell death events leading to the physical and intellectual degeneration associated with Parkinson's disease.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.