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World Parkinson’s Day - April 11th

Posted: 10th April 2017

Imagine the brain is a city; like any city it needs garbage collectors to keep the streets free of garbage. Similarly, the brain has cells that are responsible for removing toxic protein species. However, in the brains of people with Parkinson’s Disease, this clearance is defective.

Australian Rotary Health PhD scholarship recipient, Jasmina Markulić would like everyone to know on World Parkinson’s Day (April 11), that while there is still much to be understood about Parkinson’s Disease, dedicated and hard-working researchers are getting closer to understanding the underlying causes of this debilitating illness.

“We know that Parkinson’s Disease is linked to toxic protein deposits that disrupt the brain’s normal functioning. These protein deposits form what we know as Lewy bodies, and are found in an area of the brain stem where they deplete the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing Parkinsonian symptoms,” Ms Markulić said.

“My PhD project focuses on finding a way to clear Lewy bodies. We know that the brain has specific cells that are responsible for removing Lewy bodies; there are proteins found on these cells that stimulate (act like an accelerator), and others that inhibit (act like a handbrake) this removal process”.

Jasmina and a team of researchers at St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research are specifically designing drugs to help clear Lewy bodies in the brain and ultimately, reverse the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.

She uses the garbage truck analogy to describe the clearing of these toxic species.

“Some drugs will target the accelerator proteins to stimulate the clearance of Lewy bodies, while others will release the handbrake; facilitating the removal of these toxic proteins by the garbage truck cells”.

“I want to make a difference to the lives of the more than 30 people who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease every day. I want to be a part of changing this statistic, because when you know people affected by this disease, these are no longer just numbers, but people’s lives.”

With the prevalence of Parkinson’s Disease increasing threefold after the age of 65, Jasmina stresses with Australia’s increasingly aging population and longer life expectancy, funding for Parkinson’s Disease research should be prioritised as a matter of urgency.

Australian Rotary Health is one of the largest independent funders of mental health research within Australia and in 2017 has contributed more than $2 million towards health research.

For more information please see: Structural biology