Are Gaucher Disease and Parkinson's Linked?

The NIH Is Investigating a Possible Connection

Richard Meyer: The New York folk singer had Gaucher; he died in June of Parkinson’s disease. His brother Ted Meyer undergoes brain imaging and other tests as part of the NIH study.
Courtesy of Ted Meyer
Richard Meyer: The New York folk singer had Gaucher; he died in June of Parkinson’s disease. His brother Ted Meyer undergoes brain imaging and other tests as part of the NIH study.

By Susan FitzGerald

Published August 16, 2012, issue of August 17, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Ted Meyer was six years old the first time he got involved in medical research, by donating a sample of bone marrow. He had just been diagnosed with Gaucher disease, and his parents hoped their son’s participation might help him and others with the potentially fatal inherited metabolic disorder.

Meyer, 54, is still actively participating in Gaucher research — though it has taken an unexpected turn in the past few years. The Los Angeles-based artist is part of a federally funded study at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) aimed at understanding a genetic link between Gaucher, a rare disease that disproportionately affects Jews of Ashkenazi descent, and Parkinson’s disease, a progressive movement disorder that affects more than 1.5 million older Americans.

Meyer’s brother Richard, who was likewise diagnosed with Gaucher as a child, went on to develop Parkinson’s in his late 40s. Richard Meyer, a New York City-based folk singer, died in June at the age of 59. “We really didn’t know what Richard was in for,” Meyer said of his brother’s struggle with Parkinson’s. “It was a very long, slow, degrading, debilitating, personality-stealing illness.”

Both brothers had signed on to take part in the NIH study that is looking for early signs of Parkinson’s in patients who have Gaucher or are carriers of the Gaucher gene. Ted Meyer, an artist-in-residence at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, said his brother had requested that his body be donated to science after his death. Ted plans to continue on his own in the NIH study, which entails periodic brain imaging and other testing. “I will admit I have trepidations about taking the next step, though I don’t see any signs of Parkinson’s,” Meyer said. “But at night when I get a twitch, I can’t help but think of the possible ramifications.”

The possibility that a rare genetic disease, Gaucher, might inform the understanding and treatment of a far more common, multifactorial disease, Parkinson’s — and vice versa — has caught the attention of the scientific community. “People ask, ‘Why do you spend your life studying a rare disorder?’” said Dr. Ellen Sidransky, chief of the section on Molecular Neurogenetics at the NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute, who has been studying Gaucher disease since the 1980s. “I believe that people with rare disorders need effective treatment, but in addition, I have learned that rare diseases can teach us about fundamental aspects of biology that can shed light on more common disorders.”

Gaucher disease is caused by mutations in the gene known as GBA, which is involved in the production of an enzyme that breaks down a fatty substance called glucocerebroside. When the enzyme is absent or defective, this fatty substance can collect in the spleen, liver and bone marrow, causing damage. Some forms of Gaucher involve associated neurological symptoms, as well. Symptoms vary in severity — some Gaucher patients with a rare subtype die in infancy; in other patients, symptoms are barely detectable.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.