11 April 2022
News Category: 
Patient and health stories

Today is World Parkinson's Day. The Royal Melbourne Hospital is passionate about advancing research and care for all movement disorders.

Currently there are no drugs that stop or slow the progression of Parkinson's. But an NHMRC-funded study, led by the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, has a novel approach to looking into the disease, with hopes for new treatments and a cure.

Usually laboratories use mice to look at disease progression and treatments. However, mice do not develop Parkinson's. This has meant looking into the condition in the laboratory is often difficult. In this study, however, RMH's Dr Andrew Evans and WEHI's Associate Professor Grant Dewson have taken skin biopsies from 20 consenting RMH young-onset Parkinson's Disease patients, and are growing neuronal stem cells from these biopsies in the laboratory.

"The classical movement symptoms associated with Parkinson's are caused by loss of dopaminergic neurons," Associate Professor Dewson said.

"This can be caused when the 'ubiquitin system' - a garbage disposal system - fails, leading to toxic waste build up and the death of vulnerable cells, like dopaminergic neurons," he said.

"In the laboratory, we're looking to understand how and why this ubiquitin garbage disposal system fails in individuals with Parkinson’s," he said.

From this research, Dr Evans is hoping to find a way to target the ubiquitin system to improve the lives of patients with Parkinson's Disease.

"We're using cutting-edge technologies to investigate if we can kickstart or hijack the ubiquitin system, to protect vulnerable dopaminergic neurons, and slow or halt the progression of Parkinson's," Dr Evans said.

Dr Evans said the most important thing he would like to see occur with this research is improving the quality of life for patients with Parkinson's disease, especially those with young-onset Parkinson's Disease.

"Up to 10,000 Australians are living with young-onset Parkinson's Disease, which really impacts their life and their ability to work," he said.

"While still early on in this study, we'd love to be able to find effective treatments through our work that gives quality of life back to all Parkinson's patients, but especially for young-onset Parkinson's patients."