By Christie DeBernardis
Ann Hanley, wife of WinStar Farm General Manager David Hanley, was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease at the age of 49 and instead of letting it get her down, she was inspired and empowered. She started the Ann Hanley Parkinson's Research Fund and teamed up with the University of Kentucky's Dr. Craig Van Horne and Professor Greg Gerhardt to advance their groundbreaking research to treat this incurable disease through surgical procedure that implants a nerve graft into the brain.
The majority of the funding for this research has come from members of the Thoroughbred industry. Fasig-Tipton, Coolmore and WinStar hosted “Night for a Cure” during the Fasig-Tipton July sale, which raised over $300,000 and Goffs hosted a similar event that brought in over €150,000.
“What I really wanted to get across to the Thoroughbred community is the fact that they have been so helpful and so dedicated to my cause and they have really helped us get started with this study which is really important for Parkinson's,” Hanley told the TDN. “We've implanted 34 patients with nerve grafts into the brain thanks to this funding. We've been able to see that it is a very safe procedure and it is really tolerated well.”
Hanley added, “Of that 34 we have 17 patients that are one year out [from having the procedure] and 11 of the 17 have shown clinically important improvements. This is really unbelievable and it's amazing for this first of its kind study. The rest of those patients of the 17 all did well, but the 11 did really outstanding.”
Now that Hanley and her team have seen that Parkinson's patients are seeing significant improvement after receiving the treatment, the next step is to expand their project by implanting grafts in more patients and sharing their technique with other medical centers.
“We have patients that come from all over the country that want to be a part of what we are doing. This is one of a kind,” Hanley explained. “There is nothing else out there that shows this kind of success. Some patients seem to show a change in the progression of the disease, which is what really excites us and shows we have to continue with the study. We are at a point where we can't give up, we have to keep going. If we get to share what we are doing here, we could be changing not just Parkinsons in America, but the bigger picture.”
Hanley will take a step towards sharing and spreading the University of Kentucky's research during her visit to Washington D.C. Feb. 26 through Feb. 28 for the 2017 Parkinson's Policy Forum, which she was invited to by Michael J. Fox's Fox Foundation.
“It is an invite only event, where we will start work on policies and agendas and then go to the Hill Feb. 28,” Hanley said. “They expect that we have probably 200 meetings set up during the time we are going to be there. What we try to do is get all the Parkinson community and organizations together so we can learn, discuss and take action on issues related to research, drug development and approval, and healthcare. It plays a critical role in helping lawmakers understand the prospectus of the patients and the families living with the disease.”
The invitation to this event if very important for Hanley and her research. She credits the Thoroughbred community and their support for giving her this opportunity.
“The only reason I have been invited is because of the work that I have done with the research here at UK, which has been mostly funded through the Thoroughbred community,” Hanley commented. “You could see the Thoroughbred community has set off this chain reaction, so it has catapulted me further along in the advocacy work that I do.”
Not only has the racing industry provided financial support to Hanley's efforts, but they have also been there for her on a personal level, checking in and giving her emotional support.
“When I go to the horse sales or the Eclipse awards, everybody comes and talks to me and they all are interested in the research and how I am doing,” Hanley remarked. “It is the most wonderful feeling that you have a family and network of supporters behind you that seem to genuinely care and have done so much for me to get this far. It is not just about me, it is about all of these people that don't have the energy that I have. Over a million people in the USA have Parkinsons. It is not like cancer or Alzheimers, which are the big diseases. It kind of gets overlooked, but there is no cure.”
Click here to donate or learn more about Hanley's foundation.