A lack of dopamine means people can have difficulty controlling their movements and moving freely. It can also impact on other body systems such as the bowel, sense of smell, thinking and mood. Late stage Parkinson’s disease can also lead to dementia.
Why neurons die in Parkinson’s disease is unknown and there is currently no cure or treatment that slow its progression.
Our research program harnesses expertise in proteomics, genomics, structural biology and drug discovery, as well as our research in cell death and strong clinical partnerships, in particular with Dr Andrew Evans (Head, Movement Disorders Clinic, Royal Melbourne Hospital).
WEHI’s research into Parkinson’s disease aims to:
Our researchers are:
Our Parkinson’s disease research is also relevant to other neurodegenerative conditions such as:
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive condition caused by the loss of neurons in the brain that are responsible for making a key chemical in the brain called dopamine.
Neurotransmitters like dopamine are chemical messengers that relay messages between the brain and the rest of the body.
When dopamine is not produced at adequate levels, controlling movement becomes increasingly difficult.
Parkinson’s affects people in different ways, with each patient experiencing a unique combination of symptoms, level of intensity and disease progression.
The main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are:
Parkinson’s disease patients can also experience pain due to muscle rigidity, depression, constipation, problems swallowing, loss of smell, and problems with memory and sleep.
Many people associate Parkinson’s disease with tremor, but in around 30 per cent of cases tremor is not present.
Parkinson’s is not a fatal disease. It is possible to live with Parkinson’s for a long time, although symptoms progressively worsen.
The majority of neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, are due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. These are not well understood, however, making it difficult to identify who is at risk of developing the disease. Men are also more likely to develop Parkinson’s than women.
The greatest known risk factor for many neurodegenerative disorders is age. Parkinson’s disease mainly affects people aged over 65, but it can occur at a younger age.
The number of people affected by Parkinson’s disease is likely to rise as our population ages, and possibly driven through environmental factors, making neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease a growing healthcare concern.
There are currently no drugs to prevent or cure Parkinson’s disease, and there is no simple test to diagnose the disease.
Treatments to control symptoms can be very effective. Medications to alleviate symptoms commonly involve increasing dopamine levels through administration of levodopa. Certain patients that have unstable responses to levodopa may benefit from deep-brain stimulation.
Other approaches to manage symptoms and maintain daily activities include physiotherapy, speech pathology, occupational therapy and psychiatry. A multidisciplinary approach is typically applied to improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s.
We are committed to research to understand the causes of, and to find much-needed new treatments for, devastating neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease.