In December of last year, I took on the role as CEO of Shake It Up Australia, after nearly six years as Executive General Manager. At the time, I shared my vision for the future of Shake It Up, one of continued growth to fund cutting-edge research projects that will make a real difference for people living with Parkinson’s now and into the future.
We are certainly seeing a steady trajectory of growth and expansion, with 2023 a whirlwind of activity and exciting developments in Parkinson’s research. I am pleased to share the first of regular progress updates, to keep our Shake It Up community across the advancements in Parkinson’s research, the successes achieved and what is on the horizon.
Recent Shake It Up Highlights
- A record year for our annual Pause 4 Parkinson’s campaign, which showed the power of the Australian community coming together to support a cause close to their hearts. With the help of 71 fundraisers, 901 donors and 16 sponsors, together we raised over $290,000. 100 per cent of those funds will go directly to new and critical research projects that support our mission of slowing, stopping and curing Parkinson’s disease.
- Supporting the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute to recruit participants for their Australian Parkinson’s Genetics Study (APGS), which will contribute towards the largest study of Parkinson’s genetics ever undertaken. This study is funded by Shake It Up and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) and aims to crack the genetic code of Parkinson’s. In April, we held a call out for people without Parkinson’s to join the study as part of a control group. We are thrilled that there were close to 1,000 registrations in April, helping to bring us ever closer to a breakthrough in understanding the genetic variants that influence a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s.
- Presenting at the Fight Parkinson’s Research Symposium, a significant event bringing together Parkinson’s researchers and neurologists to discuss exciting developments in both Australia and abroad, in collaboration with The Florey and WEHI. This event was a fascinating exploration of clinical advances, particularly in relation to Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease and gender. I was pleased to be able to share the current clinical pipeline for Shake It Up and MJFF, as well as ongoing Australian clinical trial opportunities.
New Research Projects Funded
- Research conducted by Jason Howitt, PhD, Swinburne University of Technology, Laura Jacobson, PhD, The Florey, and David Wright, PhD, Monash University. Jason Howitt says, “Recent evidence indicates that the protein alpha-synuclein can be spread between cells in the brain, causing pathology in Parkinson’s disease. In this project, we are investigating if stimulating natural clearance pathways in the brain can remove alpha-synuclein before it is spread to other cells. We aim to do this by enhancing a specific phase of sleep, called slow wave sleep. Using an animal model of Parkinson’s disease, our findings will identify if it is possible to limit the spread of alpha-synuclein in the brain, thus slowing or preventing disease onset. The support from Shake It Up will allow a multidisciplinary team from three different research institutes to investigate if enhancing brain clearance pathways can limit Parkinson’s disease.”
- Research conducted by a team of global collaborators including Shane Ellis from the University of Wollongong, Kim Ekroos, PhD, CEO of Lipidomics Society and Nico Verbeeck, COO at Aspect Analytics. Shane Ellis told us, “Mutations in the GBA-1 gene are one of the largest risk factors for Parkinson’s disease. This mutation means our cells are unable to break down specific lipid (fat) molecules known as glucosylceramides. Thanks to MJFF and Shake it Up funding we have been able to study how this mutation changes lipid (fat) metabolism within different brain regions using an imaging technique known as mass spectrometry imaging, which can image hundreds of lipid molecules at the same time. This provides new knowledge on how this mutation alters metabolism, which can help determine new therapeutic targets. Our initial project focused on animal models, and with the latest funding, we are expanding our studies to human post-mortem samples and bringing in advanced machine-learning tools to study human PD brain samples.”
- Research conducted by Richard Gordon, PhD, DABT, Queensland University of Technology, along with international collaborators, to test the effectiveness of a new treatment for Parkinson’s disease. Developed by Sanofi, the drug — called Tolebrutinib — blocks inflammation in the brain. The team proposes that Tolebrutinib could be a safe and effective treatment for PD based on results in preclinical animal models and ongoing clinical trials with this drug for other diseases.
What’s on the horizon?
In July, I will be travelling with our founder and chairman Clyde to attend the World Parkinson Congress (WPC) in Barcelona. The WPC is an opportunity for the global Parkinson’s community to join together and hear from scientists, health-care professionals and people living with Parkinson’s about the latest breakthroughs and perspectives on research, treatments and care. If you are attending the congress, we invite you to join us for a social catch-up on 4 July before the Opening Ceremony. You can save your spot here before June 20.
Shake It Up was thrilled to support an esteemed group of early career Australian researchers to be at the forefront of innovation at WPC 2023 with a series of travel grants provided to 30+ Honours, undergraduates, MD and PhD students and early-career researchers. With no WPC held for the last four years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is an exciting opportunity for Shake It Up to hear from the brightest minds in the research community and bring more knowledge and opportunities to Australia. Dr Richard Gordon, the Australian Science Ambassador for the WPC says, “The triennial WPC meeting is a unique opportunity for Australian researchers to showcase their discoveries on a global stage, network with world-leading experts, and most importantly, to learn directly from people living with PD every day.”
You can expect to hear more from the Shake It Up team about all the developments and news coming out of WPC in July, and we look forward to providing further updates about the significant momentum in the Parkinson’s community.
There is more progress being made than ever before, and we are steadily working towards our vision of a world without Parkinson’s.
If you’d like to hear more or support Shake It Up to achieve our vision, you can get in touch with us or consider supporting our End of Financial Year appeal with a donation.
Vicki Miller, CEO