Every day in Australia, 38 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, making it the second most common neurological disease in Australia.
Right now, there is no cure for Parkinson’s, which has both motor symptoms (such as tremors, rigid muscles and balance problems), and non-motor symptoms (such as loss of smell, fatigue and vision problems). With the prevalence of the disease having doubled in the past 25 years, the need to find a cure is becoming more and more urgent.
‘More widespread than people realise’
Clyde Campbell knows all too well the reality of Parkinson’s, having lived with the disease for the past 14 years. “For many people, when they think of Parkinson’s, they think of motor symptoms like tremors. But the reality is that Parkinson’s is a very individual condition, and each person will experience a range of different symptoms, including many non-motor symptoms that affect things such as mood, behaviour and sleep.”
Campbell says many people are surprised when they learn just how prevalent Parkinson’s is. “150,000 Australians currently live with the condition. Without a medical breakthrough, we expect that number to double every 15 years, which is why research is so critical,” he explains. “It’s a more widespread condition than people realise and can affect anyone. 20 percent of people with Parkinson’s in Australia are under 50 years old.”
Christine Jeyachandran was just 37 years old when she found out she had Parkinson’s. After four years of experiencing her body decline and struggles with flexibility, reflexes and motor skills, she discovered the benefits of exercise through gymnastics.
“People can get quite depressed with Parkinson’s, and that can make it hard for people to exercise or remain involved in their community. But when people isolate, it’s worse,” she told news.com.au. “I just encourage people to get involved with community. The most important thing is what you can do today – don’t worry about the future.”
Finding a cure
Campbell’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s in 2009 led to him founding Shake It Up Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that partners with The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. “I decided I didn’t want to sit back and wait for the rest of the world to find a cure, I wanted to join in the action,” he explains.
“When I learned more about the work of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research in the US, I realised that research was the key to helping people living with this disease both now and into the future.”
To date, Shake It Up Australia has co-funded 71 ground-breaking research projects at 22 Australian research institutes, to the value of $27.7 million. One recent project that Shake It Up Australia and The Michael J. Fox Foundation have funded is a ground-breaking study by Professor Carolyn Sue AM from Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA).
Testing the hypothesis that a ‘Nix’ cell protein can prevent the widespread cell death that causes the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s, the study, if successful, would mean researchers will be able to slow and stop the progression of Parkinson’s by protecting cells from dying.
“This is a big step forward and if the science is proven could be a game changer for people living with Parkinson’s in the near future,” says Shake It Up CEO Vicki Miller.
Miller says Shake It Up is also helping establish Australia as a cost-effective location for clinical trials in Parkinson’s and working with international pharmaceutical companies to provide opportunities for people living with Parkinson’s to gain access to potentially life-changing treatments sooner.
Pause 4 Parkinson’s
Without funding from organisations like Shake It Up Australia, these kinds of potentially life-changing projects could not get off the ground. Everyone has the opportunity to be a part of that change by donating to Shake It Up Australia so they can continue to help find a cure.
April marks Parkinson’s Awareness Month and people are encouraged to #Pause4Parkinsons by pledging a donation or participating in fundraising or clinical trials.
Every bit counts and there are many ways to get involved. Visit shakeitup.org.au/pause4parkinsons