A young man from Flushing has set out to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease, a condition that mostly affects the elderly.
“My relative recently just passed away from Parkinson’s … My parents described how hard her life was — she couldn’t walk, couldn’t go to the bathroom,” Jaskeerat Gujral, a rising senior at St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows, said of his aunt’s mother.
But even before it afflicted a member of his family, Gujral already had set out to research the neurodegenerative disorder.
“My inspiration for research was my interest in neuroscience,” he explained. “When I was around 12 I just became fascinated by the brain and how such a small organ can do a lot. At first, I didn’t fully understand the brain, so I assumed that it was a simple organ. I was completely wrong. I now realize the brain is a relatively small organ, but it controls several aspects of our lives from movement to thinking.”
The 17-year-old is sponsoring a fundraiser in conjunction with the American Parksinson’s Disease Association to help find a cure for the disease. As of Sept. 9, the teen had raised $1,400 of his $2,000 goal, which will be put toward providing education, information and support to those touched by Parkinson’s disease in Queens, as well as to fund scientific research into the causes, prevention, treatments and ultimately a cure.
Parkinson’s disease is a central nervous system disorder that affects movement, often resulting in tremors, speech changes, rigidity of muscles and impaired motion. The nerve damage in the brain often leads to drops in dopamine levels and leads to depression, anxiety and weight loss. According to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, only about 10 to 20 percent of people who have it are classified with a “young onset” version of the disease, meaning that they experience symptoms before the age of 50.
“Doing research on this terrible disease, I find myself to be in complete sadness constantly trying to grasp the idea that elderly people must suffer from these symptoms on a daily basis,” said Gujral in the description for his fundraiser.
Though he is eager to raise money that can contribute to a cure, Gujral said that a major point of the fundraiser is to raise awareness of the debilitating disease.
Gujral took his passion one step further and began studying possible medication alternatives for Parkinson’s patients under the mentorship of a clinical neurologist based outside of Chicago.
“We’re trying to see if an herb can treat motor and mood symptoms in Parkinson’s such as depression and tremors,” said Gujral. He and Dr. Sachin Kapur have been studying the effects of ginkgo biloba, an antioxidant-riddled supplement from the maidenhair tree, on patients since Aug. 11.
“I reached out to him and asked if he was willing to do research with me,” said Gujral. “Over the past year we have been creating an experimental study and trying to find patients willing to participate. He has a clinic so he’s trying to promote research study.”
The two have been working together remotely since before the pandemic and started the clinical trials in late July after a patient agreed to participate. Several more patients have since agreed to join in, and the two researchers are hoping for as many as 50 participants to produce an accurate report.
Participants ingest the herb orally through a capsule over the course of six weeks in addition to their already prescribed medication. Throughout the trial, Gujral and his mentor conduct two tests on each patient that assess mood change and motor improvement.
“It’s been very interesting because I really like neuroscience and research,” said Gujral. “Whether feeling happy or depressed and hopeless, they rate those feelings and if there’s an increase or decrease, we’d see if it made an improvement”
To donate to Gujral’s fundraiser, or for more information on Parksinson’s disease, visit apdaparkinson.org.