Michael J. Fox at a podium speaking about social networks and how they help him fight his Parkinson's Disease. His foundation and philanthropy supports cutting edge medical research

Actor Michael J. Fox delivers an address to IBM Lotusphere 2012 conference on January 16, 2012 in Orlando, Florida. During his speech he discussed how social networks help him to manage the symptoms and progression of Parkinson’s Disease. His innovative approach to philanthropy allows the Michael J. Fox Foundation to support cutting-edge medical research. Photo: drserg / Shutterstock.com

Michael J. Fox spoke about his commitment to finding a cure for Parkinson’s Disease at the recent Forbe’s 400 Summit on Philanthropy. Diagnosed in 1991, at age 29, Fox remained silent until his symptoms became too noticeable and prevented him from continuing to work on his popular sitcom “Spin City.”

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) raises money and then invests these funds in cutting-edge research. Traditional foundations use donations to build an endowment. That model is too slow for Fox. His foundation doesn’t wait for a cure. It pursues one.

Speaking at a Center for Effective Philanthropy’s conference Fox said, “One of the reasons we focused on research was because it was a huge task, it was an essential task. If we started going in all sorts of other directions, no one would be served

Researchers took early notice of the foundation’s innovation and it has become a credible source in the scientific community. Malu Tansey, a scientist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center told New York Times reporter Joe Nocera, “If you are a serious Parkinson’s researcher you live and die by the Fox Foundation’s Web site.”

In 2014 the average gift to the foundation was $50 and 68 donors gave gifts of six-figures or more. Sergey Brin, the billionaire founder of Google has supported the foundation for nine years, partly due to the knowledge that Parkinson’s Disease has touched his family. “My mother had always been haunted by Parkinson’s because her aunt had suffered from it,” he wrote. Personal connection to the disease is a powerful incentive for philanthropy. Over the last five years donations have doubled, due partly to donors’ personal connection to the disease.

Donations to Fox’s foundation support a variety of research avenues such as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) an innovative technology that using electrodes implanted into the brain to control the erratic motion and unstable gait associated with the disease.

This innovative technology recalls the work of the eccentric scientist featured in Fox’s hit movie “Back to the Future.” A reminder that science fiction can become science fact and that one person can make a difference if they simply persevere.