Walk for a Cure: Have fun, food and fight brain disease

Chris Curle
Special to the Eagle
Posters of people who are fighting degenerative brain diseases or who have lost the battle are scattered around the lake got the CurePSP Awareness & Memorial Walk at Mackle Park on Marco Island.

Twenty years ago, the first steps were taken in Southwest Florida toward a treatment and cure for an array of deadly degenerative brain diseases.

 Twenty years later, the steps will continue at the 20th Anniversary CurePSP Awareness & Memorial Walk at Mackle Park on Marco Island, Saturday, March 18th.  

 It’s much more than a casual half-mile walk around the lovely lake at Mackle Park. It’s literally a step-by-step way to make more people aware of deadly neuro-degenerative brain diseases and their indiscriminate attacks on minds and bodies.

 These diseases have daunting names such as progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), corticobasal degeneration (CBD), and multiple system atrophy (MSA). Combined, they affect about 100,000 people in the U.S. 

 PSP and its family of progressive brain diseases are harrowing because they all have one inevitable outcome: mental and physical decline … and death.  The diseases affect brain cells that control balance, walking, coordination, eye movement, speech, swallowing, thinking and emotions. For the stricken, the deterioration is cruel to bear. For loved ones and caregivers, it is agonizing to witness. There is no known cause, no treatment, no cure. 

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 That’s where events such as the CurePSP Memorial Walk come in, sponsored by the Southwest Florida CurePSP Support Group.  The annual event honors those who have died from these diseases, supports those suffering now, increases awareness and raises money for research. Funding is crucial because advancements in treating one form of dementia affect the whole spectrum of neurological brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

 One of the dedicated researchers making progress is Sally Temple PhD, the Scientific Director of the Neural Stem Cell Institute in New York. 

“When I started in research, we had those rotary phones that you might see in a museum, and now you look at the smartphone and its capabilities,” Temple says. 

“That evolution has happened in the laboratory as well. We have gone from primitive technologies to sophisticated ones. This allows us to advance research in a way we could only dream of 30 years ago.” 

 In fact, Dr. Temple and her colleagues have had several laboratory successes in restoring brain cell health, which prevents brain cell death. She expects more definitive results this year, possibly leading to human clinical trials.

 Kristophe Diaz PhD is the executive director and chief science officer of Cure PSP. He believes that understanding one degenerative brain disease can be a signpost for similar diseases.

“There has been some tangible progress in research into Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, which have a common biology with the brain diseases we target,” he explains. 

“At Cure PSP we’ll make sure the progress relevant to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s also benefits our community.”

Just as the world was thrilled to trumpet Dr. Jonas Salk’s 1955 cure for Polio, today’s neuroscientists are eager to conquer degenerative brain diseases.

Cindy MacDonald, the walk coordinator, lost her mother to PSP. She says the subject of the event is serious, but the walk is all fun and games and food.

“We have people coming from across the country and even from other countries. Everyone enjoys the family-oriented, wheelchair-friendly walk around the beautiful Mackle Park Lake.  We always have a fresh grilled buffet lunch, live entertainment, a silent auction, and chances to win great prizes.”

The walk has come a long way since the first one 20 years ago when 40 people walked around the parking lot of the Naples Bath & Tennis Club followed by lunch and a raffle. Last year’s walk attracted 200 people and raised $260,000. There are high hopes for an even more successful event this March.

“For anyone who has not attended one of our walks,” MacDonald exclaims, “you won’t want to miss this one!”

If you go

The 20th Annual CurePSP Awareness & Memorial Walk