Shake It Up and Parkinson’s Victoria Working Together
Wednesday, 20th April 2016

On Monday 11 April, Shake It Up Australia and Parkinson’s Victoria announced their firm commitment to work together in the area of research funding for the benefit of the entire Parkinson’s Community.

In a challenging fiscal environment, the two organisations recognise the importance of collaborating, partnering and leveraging each other’s capabilities which have led to Parkinson’s Victoria contributing $160,706 over three years to a Parkinson’s research project funded by the Shake It Up / Michael J. Fox Foundation Partnership.

Before sharing details of the project here is a brief snapshot of how Shake It Up Australia funds research in partnership with The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF).

  • First, Australian researchers apply for project funding directly to MJFF in the United States.
  • The research is then assessed and validated by the expert panel of scientists at MJFF to eliminate redundancy of research around the globe. At this point Shake It Up is approached to fund it – typically Shake It Up funds these projects on a 50/50 basis with MJFF.
  • Once approved the research projects are monitored and benchmarked by a team of formally trained PhDs and business-trained project managers at MJFF. This includes the periodic release of funds in line with the approved grant and on the basis of reported results.

Under this exciting new funding agreement with Parkinson’s Victoria, we will see the Shake It Up component for this specific project shared equally with Parkinson’s Victoria.

So now onto the project.

The 3-year project titled Measuring mitochondrial respiration and stress signalling in blood cells as biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease is being undertaken at La Trobe University at a total cost of $642,827. Shake It Up and MJFF have each committed to funding 50% of this cost.

Through this new and somewhat historic agreement, Parkinson’s Victoria is contributing $160,706 over three years to the project which represents 50% of the Shake It Up commitment.

It is well known that identifying suitable biomarkers is a critical research priority for early diagnosis of Parkinson’s and we look forward to hearing how this research progresses over the coming years.

To explain the project in more detail here is an extract from La Trobe University’s project announcement:

Researchers at La Trobe University have uncovered a vital key to understanding how people develop Parkinson’s disease after pinpointing abnormal cell behaviour in people with the condition.

Currently, no clinical biomarker test exists for Parkinson’s and the only means of diagnosis is a neurological examination. By the time patients develop symptoms and undergo the exam, large numbers of vital brain cells have already been destroyed.

However, this discovery will enable researchers to develop a blood test to diagnose and treat patients much earlier.

The ‘exciting and unexpected findings’ are the result of collaborative work between the disciplines of microbiology and psychology, according to Professor of Microbiology Paul Fisher.

‘This grant will allow us to extend our study so we can discover new ways to help diagnose and monitor the progression of the disease,’ Professor Fisher said.

The work will involve a sample of 100 people: 70 with Parkinson’s and a control group of 30.

Signalling disorder, not lack of energy

Diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s have long been believed to involve breakdown or malfunction of cell mitochondria – which are the cells’ energy factories.

About a decade ago, Professor Fisher’s lab discovered that a permanently switched on ‘alarm’ at the cellular level could be responsible for symptoms in many incurable conditions involving defective mitochondria.

Professor Fisher had been studying mitochondria for many years using a laboratory organism, an amoeba called Dictyostelium (Dicty). This led to an important new understanding of how mitochondrial defects damage cells – namely that it is a signalling disorder, rather than a fundamental energy insufficiency as previously thought.

‘We realised this had important implications for understanding many different forms of mitochondrial disease, as well as most major neurodegenerative disorders,’ he said.

Professor Fisher said he and his team demonstrated for the first time in Dicty that an energy-and stress-sensing protein, known as AMPK, was permanently activated in mitochondrially diseased cells.

When energy supplies dropped, this protein began signalling and interfering with other signalling pathways, causing cell functions to shut down.

Abnormal metabolic activity

It was a natural next step for Professor Fisher’s team to join forces with Dr. Loesch-Mdzewska and other collaborators to extend their studies in Dicty to cells from Parkinson’s disease patients.

The results were both dramatic and surprising.

‘We found large increases in the mitochondrial activity of blood cells from people with Parkinson’s, and we think that this will provide suitable clinical biomarkers for the presence and progress of this disease,’ he said.

Professor Fisher said in people with Parkinson’s, something causes their cells to become ‘hyperactive’, which in turn increases the production of toxic oxygen by-products and overtime damages vital cells in the brain.

Apart from developing a definitive blood test, Professor Fisher said further work on differences in blood cells from Parkinson’s patients and healthy control groups might also open a window to the underlying mechanisms of the disease.

The principal researchers are Professor Fisher, Dr Sarah Annesley and Dr Danuta Loesch-Mdzewska

This is the fifth newly funded research project announced by Shake It Up in as many weeks, making us – along with MJFF, the largest non-government funder of Parkinson’s research in Australia. 

If you would like more information on services offered to the Parkinson’s community in Victoria, contact our friends at Parkinson’s Victoria>