Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurodegenerative condition. It is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, currently affecting around 220,000 Australians.


Parkinson’s disease results from the loss of specific nerve cells (called dopaminergic neurons) that produce dopamine, a chemical that is vital for the control of muscles and movement.

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.

Parkinson’s disease research at WEHI

Our research program harnesses expertise in proteomicsgenomicsstructural 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:

  • better understand the mechanisms involved in neurodegeneration
  • identify new biomarkers of disease progression
  • develop new treatments to prevent or slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

Our researchers are:

  • investigating how to stop or delay the nerve cell death that causes the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
  • investigating how the dysregulation of a specific protein, called ubiquitin, can contribute to the onset and progression of Parkinson’s disease
  • applying innovative approaches to better understand how powerhouses of cells, structures called mitochondria, keep nerve cells alive and healthy
  • exploring the role that inflammation plays in the degeneration of nerve cells
  • identifying new targets for drugs that may become treatments for neurodegenerative disease.

Our Parkinson’s disease research is also relevant to other neurodegenerative conditions such as:

  • Alzheimer’s disease – a form of dementia in which mental functioning, particularly memory, is impaired.
  • Motor neurone disease – a group of diseases in which the neurons that control the muscles degenerate and die, leading to loss of muscle control and eventually paralysis.
  • Huntington’s disease – an inherited neurodegenerative disorder that causes problems with both movement and mental functioning.

Parkinson’s Disease Research Centre

With foundational philanthropic support, WEHI established the Parkinson’s Disease Research Centre. Our goal is to end Parkinson’s disease through a long-term commitment to fundamental and clinical research that is patient-centric, multi-disciplinary and highly collaborative.

Building on our expertise in cell death, ubiquitin signalling, mitochondrial biology and inflammation we aim to support the brightest research minds and to translate fundamental discoveries to targeted therapies to slow and halt Parkinson’s disease.

Find out more about the Parkinson’s Disease Research Centre.

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