Celebrating the Trailblazing Women At the Forefront of Parkinson’s Research
Friday, 10th February 2023

On Saturday, February 11th, we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly to promote full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls.

Did you know that in Australia, women make up just 13 percent of those working in science and technology? This is despite the fact that 75 percent of future careers will require some level of STEM literacy.

According to UN Women, globally only 33 percent of researchers are female. Overall, they are awarded less research funding than men and are less likely to be promoted. 

This year, the theme of the day is I.D.E.A – Innovate. Demonstrate. Elevate. Advance.  In honour of that theme, we are elevating the innovative women at the forefront of Parkinson’s research in Australia and their work to advance the field and find a cure. Many, many women are doing this work, and we commend them all.

Here are just a few of these trailblazers and more detail about their research.

Professor Glenda Halliday FAA FAHMS

Professor Glenda Halliday is a career neuroscientist and research neuropathologist specialising in neurodegeneration. She has been a Research Fellow in the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and Australian Research Council (ARC) systems since 1988. She is currently an NHMRC Leadership Fellow at the University of Sydney until 2025 and a research neuropathologist for the Sydney Brain Bank.

In 2021, Professor Halliday was awarded the Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson’s Research by The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF), which recognises scientists who have made it their life’s work to speed better treatments for Parkinson’s patients. In 2022, she was named New South Wales Scientist of the year in recognition of her work identifying and understanding dementia and degenerative motor syndromes. Premier Dominic Perrottet said Professor Halliday received the award for her ground-breaking work on neurodegenerative diseases, which has changed how we diagnose and treat these conditions globally.

Shake It Up is proud to be funding Professor Halliday’s research into astroglial proteins associated with astroglial alpha-synuclein in different stages of Parkinson’s disease. You can read about her work to improve targeted and individualised treatment for Parkinson’s here.

Professor Carolyn Sue AM

Professor Carolyn Sue is an internationally recognised clinician-scientist and a leader in Parkinson’s and mitochondrial disease. She established the Centre of Excellence for Parkinson’s disease and Movement Disorders at Royal North Shore Hospital in 2011, is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences, and serves on the Council of the National Health and Medical Research Council. She also holds leadership roles at the Movement Disorder Society of Australia and New Zealand, International Parkinson’s disease and Movement Disorder Society, and Australian Mitochondrial Disease Medical Network. She was appointed in August 2022 as the inaugural Kinghorn Chair, Neurodegeneration at NeuRA.

In January, Professor Carolyn Sue made headlines in Australia as it was announced that Shake It Up Australia and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) had committed $1.67M in funding for her research. The study will test the hypothesis that a cell protein known as Nix can restore cell mitochondrial function and prevent the widespread cell death that causes Parkinson’s disease’s debilitating symptoms. “If this research is successful, it will be a game-changer,” Professor Sue said. “This will be the first time we’ll be able to protect cells from dying.” You can read and watch more about this pioneering research here.

Dr. Linlin Ma PhD MSc 

Dr. Linlin Ma is a molecular biologist and physiologist in the ion channel research field.  She is currently a Senior Lecturer at the School of Environment and Science – Bioscience at Griffith University and a Member at the Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery. Using methods in molecular biology, electrophysiology, cell biology, and protein biochemistry, Dr. Ma’s lab mainly focuses on elucidating the pathological roles of potassium channels and calcium channels in neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, and identifying new channel modifiers from natural resources.

Last year, Shake It Up Australia funded a study led by Dr. Linlin Ma at Griffith University in collaboration with Prof. Ernst Wolvetang at The University of Queensland. The research team has identified a mutation in the KCNJ15 gene present in multiple generations of an Australian family with Parkinson’s but not present in a large cohort of healthy controls. KCNJ15 belongs to a group of biological targets that respond well to drug interventions, so successful results from this project could suggest a new target for Parkinson’s. You can find out more about this important research here.

Professor Melanie Bahlo PhD FAHMS

Professor Melanie Bahlo is an Australian statistical geneticist and bioinformatician. She is currently the Laboratory Head in the Bioinformatics Division at WEHI (The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research), which develops and applies state-of-the-art methods to analyse and comprehend complex genetic datasets. These methods are used to discover the genetic causes of human disorders such as epilepsy, ataxia, dementia, motor neuron disease, Parkinson’s disease, speech disorders, and retinal disorders. She is also a member of the team of scientists affiliated with the Lowy Medical Research Institute, studying the genetic basis for macular telangiectasia type 2.  She spearheaded the most recent Genome-Wide Association Study (GWAS), which identified common genetic variants associated with MacTel.

In July last year, Shake It Up announced funding of Professor Bahlo’s work to investigate the role of repeat expansions and mitochondrial dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease. Her team has developed novel computational tools that enable them to discover several new types of mutations and other genetic signals of PD in a person’s DNA. They will leverage these unique tools to investigate a new source of mutations, called repeat expansions, which have already proved to be the genetic cause of diseases similar to PD. You can read more about this ground-breaking research here.

You can learn more about the International Day of Women and Girls in Science and how you can get involved here.

Share the message on social with #WomenInScience and #February11 and tell us about any women you know who are shaking things up in the world of STEM.