Improved treatment for Parkinson’s on the way

Professor Winston Byblow

Professor Winston Byblow

CBR member Professor Winston Byblow is the recent recipient of a grant from the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand.  His research aims to develop behavioural tests and identify genetic markers which may be used in future to indicate whether or not a patient with Parkinson’s is a good candidate for dopamine agonist medication, and is entitled: Falling off the curve: the link between impulsivity and dopamine.

Dopamine agonists, which mimic the action of dopamine upon its specific receptors, are a mainstay of the treatment regimen for Parkinson’s disease, and lead to significant improvements in quality of life for the majority of patients.  However, like all medications, they have side effects, and these manifest in different ways in different people.  For some people (10-20%), side effects include the development of impulse control disorders such as gambling addiction, hypersexuality, and compulsive spending.

The possibility for these side effects to occur in patients receiving dopamine agonist therapy was noted about a decade ago, but at that time scientists were not able to tell whether or not the affected patients had any particular features which made them especially vulnerable to developing compulsive behaviour disorders.  Later studies have suggested that this sub-population may have a particular profile, and Professor Byblow’s study aims to further identify this, and develop a tool for clinicians to make good prescribing choices for their patients in future.

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Questions and Answers around Stem Cell Research

The Centre for Brain Research was privileged to host, on Wednesday 6 June, the first New Zealand session of a travelling seminar which began in Australia, called Stem Cells: Hope, Hype, and Progress.

Attendees at the seminar, including those suffering from debilitating neurological conditions, were able to a hear a refreshingly honest account of the current state of stem cell research worldwide – free from the sensationalism of those accounts which often feature in the press.

The challenges of finding, collecting, and culturing varying kinds of stem cells (and the ethical procedures surrounding this) were discussed, along with the different potentials each offered for laboratory work or therapeutics.

The take-home message of the day, from the three presenters, was that stem cells’ greatest promise, at this point in time, lay in what they could teach those scientists culturing them about the ‘everyday’ activities of the cell, and as a medium for drug discovery to treat currently untreatable conditions, rather than as direct therapeutic agents.

CeleBRation Choir to perform at your place!

The CeleBRation Choir, a social singing group for people with communication difficulties as a result of neurological conditions, is an initiative of the Centre for Brain Research, and meets to practice weekly at the University, led by Music Therapists, with support from Speech and Language Therapists.

The choir has performed for various audiences since its inception three years ago, and now you can hear a selection of their work, in your very own home – a professionally produced video is available to view online at the Centre for Brain Research’s website.

Go to: http://www.fmhs.auckland.ac.nz/faculty/cbr/events/choir.aspx to view, and remember that anyone with a neurological condition is welcome to come along and join us in making music – it’s not called CeleBRation for nothing!

Singing for health

Auckland City Mayor Len Brown sang with members of the CeleBRation Choir this week. The community music therapy group offers singing therapy to people with communication problems through brain disease.

Singing for health

Mayor Len Brown sang with members of the CeleBRation Choir, who have communication problems through brain disease

Mayor Brown’s love of singing is well known, and he was very keen to visit the 30-strong CeleBRation Choir, run by the Centre

 

for Brain Research at The University of Auckland. Members include people who live with the effects of stroke, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease, along with other neurological conditions. People with these conditions may have problems speaking but find they can still sing.

Mayor Brown was treated to a list of well-known songs, solos and rounds before he discussed his love of singing and its role in his own recovery from a heart attack. He then led a rendition of the Christmas carol “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” and gave a solo performance of a new waiata “Ko Tamaki Matou” celebrating the history and future of Auckland.

His visit provided a snapshot into some of the University’s latest research around brain disease and recovery, led by scientists in the Centre for Brain Research’s Brain Recovery Clinic. He took part in a demonstration of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation by Dr Jim Stinear, an exercise rehabilitation expert. This electromagnetic stimulation technology is described by Jim as “a simple but effective concept” providing new rehabilitation hope for people with movement problems through stroke.

The CeleBRation Choir choral group began as a social gathering for people affected by brain disease in September 2009. Now, two years on, it is not only a successful meeting of camaraderie, good cheer and melodies but also the subject of a number of academic studies into the unique benefits of singing therapy for the brain.

A team at the Centre for Brain Research is studying the CeleBRation Choir as a potential therapy for people with communication disorders through brain disease. Called SPICCATO (Stroke and Parkinson’s: Investigating Community Choir Engagement and Therapeutic Outcomes), the research is funded by the Health Research Council.  The team is led by Speech Science Head Professor Suzanne Purdy, and will look at therapeutic benefits from taking part in group singing – including people who have aphasia through stroke, and people with Parkinson’s disease who can develop voice or speech problems.

The Choir meets weekly on Mondays at the University’s Tāmaki Innovation Campus. New members are always welcome. For information on dates look at our website: http://www.fmhs.auckland.ac.nz/faculty/cbr/events/choir.aspx

New hope for neurological patients with Health Research Council Funding

Groundbreaking research developing new treatments for neurological disorders has been given the go-ahead with funding from the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC). Over $7 million of grant funding has been awarded to scientists working in the Centre for Brain Research.

The new programmes include $4.46M over five years to Professor Mike Dragunow and his team running the Biobank and Human Brain Bank. Over 100,000 New Zealanders are currently living with neurodegenerative conditions. The rate of Alzheimer’s disease is increasing in New Zealand, and CBR researchers are contributing to the global effort to find more effective treatments to combat this, and other devastating neurological disorders.

Professor Dragunow will work with Professor Richard Faull and other scientists to study the underlying causes and treatments for Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease. The world-class team of neuroscientists and chemists has well-developed linkages with neurosurgeons, gerontologists, other clinical groups in the District Health Boards involved in clinical trials, and with NZ Biotech industries. Their goal is to translate lab-based research into therapies for patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases.

Other projects funded include a study to determine personalized treatment pathways for stroke patients. Dr Cathy Stinear and her team at the Brain Recovery Clinic will use MRI and other techniques to define the rehabilitation strategy which will work best for each patient. In another project, Professor Laura Bennet’s team will examine whether stem cells can help brain-injured preterm babies. Meanwhile Professor Suzanne Purdy’s speech therapy team will look at therapeutic outcomes from being part of the CeleBRation Choir.

HRC New Programmes:

Professor Michael Dragunow, The University of Auckland, phone (09) 923 6403
Neurodegeneration in the Human Brain – Mechanisms and Therapeutic Targets
60 months, $4,467,504

HRC Projects:

Professor Laura Bennet, The University of Auckland, phone (09) 373 7599 ext 84890
Can Pluripotent Amnion Epithelial Cells help the Injured Preterm Brain?
36 months, $1,154,402

Professor Valery Feigin, AUT University, phone (09) 921 9166
Extension to the Traumatic Brain Injury Burden in New Zealand Study 
14 months, $345,465

Dr Cathy Stinear, The University of Auckland, phone (09) 923 3779 ext 83779
TRIO: Targeted Rehabilitation, Improved Outcomes
36 months, $1,126,268

HRC Feasibility Study Grants:

Professor Suzanne Purdy, The University of Auckland, phone (09) 373 7599 ext 82073
SPICCATO: Stroke and Parkinson’s Community Choir Engagement and Therapeutic Outcomes
12 months, $149,986