More Science See Inside New Movement in Parkinson's Recent genetic and cellular discoveries are among the advances pointing to improved treatments for this increasingly common disorder By Andres M. Lozano and Suneil K. Kalia JEFF JOHNSON Hybrid Medical Animation Parkinson's disease, first described in the early 1800s by British physician James Parkinson as "shaking palsy," is among the most prevalent neurological disorders. According to the United Nations, at least four million people worldwide have it; in North America, estimates run from 500,000 to one million, with about 50,000 diagnosed every year. These figures are expected to double by 2040 as the world's elderly population grows; indeed, Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative illnesses common in the elderly (such as Alzheimer's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) are on their way to overtaking cancer as a leading cause of death. But the disease is not entirely one of the aged: 50 percent of patients acquire it after age 60; the other half are affected before then. Furthermore, better diagnosis has made experts increasingly aware that the disorder can attack those younger than 40. So far researchers and clinicians have found no way to slow, stop or prevent Parkinson's. Although treatments do exist--including drugs and deep-brain stimulation--these therapies alleviate symptoms, not causes. In recent years, however, several promising developments have occurred. In particular, investigators who study the role proteins play have linked miscreant proteins to genetic underpinnings of the disease. Such findings are feeding optimism that fresh angles of attack can be identified. This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now! Select an option below: Buy Digital Issue Customer Sign In *You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com. Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access. ADVERTISEMENT Scientific American is a trademark of Scientific American, Inc., used with permission © 2015 Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.