When my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 16 years ago, I watched him progress through a very slow and painful deterioration,” says Ryan Reynolds. “While my father is still fighting this as best he can, I found myself getting a little angry, because I was apathetic. My father wasn’t acting like a victim, so why should I?”
Four years ago, the actor linked up with the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Meeting Fox was an inspiration for Reynolds and the catalyst he needed to jump into action to become part of the solution.
“Michael uses his status as an international celebrity to become the face of this disease. It’s so brave,” says Reynolds. “Many people who work for his organization have no direct connection to this disease. Those are the real heroes. I have a direct connection, a vested interest in curing this disease, one that’s close to home.”
The nonprofit org is dedicated to finding a cure through aggressive research, which, since its founding in 2000, has funded more than $196 million in research. Dr. P. Jeffrey Conn heads a program in transitional neuropharmacology and drug discovery at the Vanderbilt U. Medical Center in Nashville.
“The Fox Foundation really stepped in and gave us the support we needed,” he says. “With Parkinson’s, a specific group of neurons called dopamine die. What we’re trying to do is target a neurotransmitter that, even after the dopamine neurons are lost, should correct the activity in the brain circuit that controls movement. It’s going very well. We’re at that final advanced stage before we start to do the studies that the FDA would require to go into testing in Parkinson’s patients. The big problem we had early on was that no one had done this, and so there weren’t funding sources.”
To make sure those funds keep coming, Reynolds ran the New York City Marathon to raise money for the org’s Team Fox program. And six months ago, Reynolds was named to the charity’s board of directors. One of his favorite activities is the annual A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson’s Benefit.
“It’s distinctly New York in its attitude,” says Reynolds. “I want to find some way to do that not only in Los Angeles but in satellite versions all over the country.”
For more information, visit michaeljfox.org