For almost 20 years, Institute Deputy Director Professor George Mellick has explored the puzzle of Parkinson's disease: specifically, what causes it and how to better treat it. The knowledge he and his team are uncovering may help cure or find improved drugs for this debilitating disease that affects around 70,000 Australians.
The Mellick team accesses a unique resource: the Queensland Parkinson's Project. This is a collection of precious blood and tissue samples - as well as key information about these samples - from 5000 Queensland people who have the disease, have family members with the disease, or healthy people who are similar in age to people with Parkinson's, as most people with the disease are over 60.
The team uses innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to profile and differentiate cells taken from people with or without the disease. By using this approach, affected cells can be read out almost like a computer, telling the team what processes are not working correctly, that could then contribute to the development of Parkinson’s disease.
An integrated approach
An integrated, multi-layered approach is used by this team, that brings information together from many strands of research. For example, one research stream being investigated by the Mellick team identifies tissue biomarkers that explain what occurs in a human brain affected by Parkinson's. Another research stream examines risk factors that help identify those biomarkers.
Next generation sequencing of DNA and RNA from human sufferers is a particularly unique approach used by the Mellick team to understand the role of genes in disease. The outcomes will enable the team to understand normality and abnormality in cells, and the impacts of potential treatments on abnormal cells. Although inherited Parkinson's is rare, this research will benefit those with inherited or non-inherited forms of the disease, because the abnormalities are thought to be similar in both forms of the disease.
The team is studying cells taken from people with Parkinson's and is using these to explore new protective treatments derived from nature. These natural molecules may, in the longer term, become new drugs or diagnostic tools.
International collaboration and funding from many sources
The Mellick team is part of a global initiative - the Genetic Epidemiology of Parkinson's Consortium (GEoPD) - with more than 30 members worldwide collaborating together to find the causes and cures for this disease. Importantly, the consortium is dedicated to promoting education, scientific research and translational development in Parkinson’s disease.
Funding to the Mellick team has been gratefully received from a number of sources. To date, the Mellick research has been supported by, amongst others, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the Clem Jones Foundation, AEGIUM Foundation, Parkinson's Queensland, and the Michael J Fox Foundation. More funding is needed, because identifying the causes and discovering new drugs for the disease are lengthy and complex processes.