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Living Healthy

Parkinson's Disease

BOSTON (WHDH) -- Early detection is a crucial step to understanding the cause of Parkinson's disease, and Boston Medical Center is leading the way in research.

The NBC hit, "The Michael J. Fox show," highlights the actor's daily struggles living with Parkinson's disease.

It's a disease that affects as many as one million Americans; and because there is no cure, early detection is key.

"We've been looking at how to diagnose and track people once they have the disease, but now finding people with very early disease,  and now taking that step even before that; people at high risk before they even get the disease," said Dr. Samuel Frank, Neurologist, Boston Medical Center.

Boston Medical Center and the BU School of Medicine have teamed up with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, to help identify people at risk.

The "Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative" or PPMI looks at several areas.

"There are three arms for people who do not yet have Parkinson's, but might be at increased risk... particular sleep disorder, second group of people who have genetic abnormalities, third are people who have decreased sense of smell," said Dr. Frank.

Fifty-six-year-old Michael Achin from North Attleboro was diagnosed four years ago.

"I didn't know anything about it, other than Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali had Parkinson's, but that's about anyone knows until they get diagnosed," said Michael Achin, battling Parkinson's Disease.

Michael says at first he didn't want to think about his future with Parkinson's but over time, has learned how to live with it.

"For me it happens to be my left side, my left hand shaking, more or less. Hasn't gone to my right side yet, keep telling the doctors if you can make sure it doesn't, I'll be in good shape," Achin said.

Michael is in good shape, and now helps others.

"A lot of people get embarrassed, they don't want to tell people, don't tell their family, boss. We took the other approach, we're gonna get it out there, cause if you hide in corner, never gonna get money for funding," Michael said.

It's the worldwide funding that's leading to groundbreaking research. Research, Dr. Frank says, that's offering a lot of hope.

"We have come a long way in terms of making people live longer, and live better. We're not there yet, we still have a long ways to go, we are far better than we used to be," Dr. Frank said.

BMC is one of only nine hospitals in the country, and the only hospital in Boston, to be designated by the American Parkinson's Disease Association as a center for advanced research.