In June this year, we shared the first of our regular quarterly progress updates for the Shake It Up Australia Foundation. Since then, we’ve seen many positive developments in Parkinson’s research. Here are the latest updates.
Recent Shake It Up Highlights
- A new test for detecting PD – In a breakthrough earlier this year, researchers validated the first test that can detect Parkinson’s disease. Now, in another promising step forward, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) announced that researchers at Duke University School of Medicine have found a new test for detecting PD. Called Mito DNADX, this test uses blood to detect damage in the DNA inside of mitochondria, tiny powerhouses in cells that malfunction in Parkinson’s. While the test needs to be validated in clinical studies, Mark Frasier, MJFF Chief Scientific Officer, says it’s especially exciting that the data suggests the mitochondrial changes occur prior to developing symptoms, so the test could be used for early detection
- An app to help those living with Parkinson’s walk more confidently – A team led by UNSW Sydney biomedical engineer Dr Matthew Brodie developed the Walking Tall app following a recent clinical trial in 62 people with Parkinson’s funded by Shake It Up and MJFF. In the clinical trials, after 13 weeks and analysis of feedback from those involved, it was found that those following the app chose to train for 150 minutes (about 2 and a half hours) compared to 60 minutes using another program.
- Funding announced to upgrade and expand a world-class Melbourne clinical trials hub – The Alfred’s Neuroscience Clinical Trials Unit, Australia’s only early-phase neuroscience clinical trials facility, is set to be refurbished with cutting-edge equipment thanks to $200,000 in funding from Shake It Up. The upgraded centre will increase access to ‘first-in-disease’ therapies and accommodate multi-day patient stays. The aim is to create a blueprint for a nation-wide Parkinson’s clinical trials network, which is vitally important as clinical trials are an imperative part of our mission to discover more effective treatments and a cure for Parkinson’s. The upgraded hub will give scientists the tools to conduct boundary-breaking trials in greater volume, increasing our understanding of the disease.
Research Project Updates
Many of the projects we have funded are making exciting progress towards clinical trials or the next stage of the research. Here are some updates about how these Shake It Up funded projects are progressing to become a reality for Parkinson’s patients.
“At the moment we are still in the recruitment phase of our study. Thanks to the enthusiastic and generous contribution from thousands of volunteers around Australia, we have more than 7,000 participants today. But we want to recruit 20,000 in total! 10,000 with a Parkinson’s diagnosis, and 10,000 without Parkinson’s. The next stage of our research will involve analysing the data using statistical models to understand which genes are linked to Parkinson’s disease, and how they influence people’s susceptibility or the difference in symptoms and progression of the disease.”
- Associate Professor Miguel Rentería, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute
“The next step in our research is to build the right set of instructions to help brain cells recycle energy more efficiently. What we’re trying to do is build a treatment which can be supplied to the cells and will instruct the cells how to recycle the batteries in the cell (they’re called mitochondria). The new batteries will be able to recharge the nerve cells that are affected in Parkinson’s disease. We’re doing that in both the dish and in models of Parkinson’s disease, so that we can develop the most effective and safest form of treatment, to bring that to human clinical trials.”
- Professor Carolyn Sue AM, NeuRA
“The progress we have made in this project is mind blowing and very exciting. We’re getting to the point where we can visualise what’s causing Parkinson’s disease, in these patient cells growing in the petri dish. And the beauty is that it can not only help us understand this complex disease, but also gives us the opportunity to safely test new ideas and drug treatments on the patient brain avatars – without putting anyone at risk. We are doing everything we can to validate our ideas first in patient brain avatars, before moving to clinical trials.”
- Dr. Cedric Bardy, Associate Professor at SAHMRI (South Australia Health and Medical Research Institute) and Flinders University
Outcomes of the World Parkinson Congress
In July, I had the privilege of travelling to Barcelona, along with our Founder Clyde Campbell, to attend the 2023 World Parkinson Congress. We came home armed with a deeper understanding of the issues facing our community and an array of insights that will inform our approach to funding Parkinson’s research moving forward.
We were thrilled to connect with the early-career researchers funded by Shake It Up with a travel grant to attend and present at the conference. The feedback provided by many of these researchers highlighted the importance of connecting the research community with our Parkinson’s community, as it is vital for research to be based on the lived experience, needs and challenges of people living with PD.
Researchers shared feedback such as:
When you are a researcher, you are often hyper-focused on the work at hand… I spoke to dozens of people with PD and medical professionals to understand how my research could help them in a practical way. Now that I am equipped with a better understanding of some of the challenges faced by the PD community, I am actively working with multiple organisations to see how our research can drive maximum clinical benefit. – Diana Zhang, UNSW
From speakers to people with Parkinson’s, to clinicians, to researchers, and carers – the amount of amazing people in the field of Parkinson’s has reinvigorated my fire for research like never before! – Harrison Waters, University of Melbourne
Meeting and speaking to people with lived experience of PD reminded me of the small, but important work that I hope to do, and has injected fresh energy into my research. As a physiotherapist, individualised assessment and treatment has always been a core part of this discipline. Discussion about precision medicine from the laboratory level to the clinical stages has reinforced the need for this and will guide my future research design and intervention development. – Lina Goh, University of Sydney
We look forward to providing further updates about the innovation and momentum in Parkinson’s research towards the end of 2023.
If you’d like to support Shake It Up to confidently commit to new, world-leading Parkinson’s projects right here in Australia, we’d love for you to consider joining our Movers and Shakers with a regular donation of an amount and frequency of your choosing.
From new tests that allow early detection, to the largest study of Parkinson’s genetics ever undertaken, and advances in slowing disease progression, there are huge leaps forward in research every day.
Vicki Miller, CEO