In almost 70 years, our understanding of how Parkinson’s disease wreaks havoc on the nervous system has grown tremendously. Advances in genetic sequencing, for instance, have revealed that up to 15 percent of all cases of Parkinson’s can be attributed to inherited mutations in a person’s DNA. But large gaps in our understanding remain, including what causes the majority of cases and how to definitively test for the disease.
Most astonishingly, today’s gold standard treatment for Parkinson’s—levodopa medications—was discovered 68 years ago. Levodopa is effective at reducing Parkinson’s hallmark symptoms like tremors, slowness, and stiffness. The underlying theory is that Parkinson’s patients lose cells that make dopamine, and levodopa acts as a substitute