Parkinson's New Zealand excited about Auckland research discovery

Press Release – Parkinson’s New Zealand

24 February 2017

Parkinson’s New Zealand is excited about new evidence on how Parkinson’s spreads through the brain. 

The evidence published today in Scientific Reports – Nature reveals that proteins known as alpha-synuclein in Parkinson’s could be spread from cell to cell. These proteins are the chief component of abnormal structures called "Lewy Bodies" and found inside brain cells in Parkinson's and some related conditions.

The discovery made by researchers at the University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research provides evidence on how Parkinson’s develops and will help lead to new treatments.

“Parkinson’s New Zealand is delighted that the commitment and dedication shown by our friends and partners, Dr Victor Dieriks and Dr Maurice Curtis and the team at the Centre for Brain Research, have led to this ground breaking research discovery. We are excited about the hope this study will bring to the 13,000 New Zealanders living with Parkinson’s,” said Parkinson’s New Zealand Chief Executive Deirdre O’Sullivan.

“This evidence about the pathways of Parkinson’s at a cellular level provides insight into how Parkinson’s progresses and opportunities for the development of new treatments that can intervene. We are extremely proud that this world leading work is being done in New Zealand as a result of New Zealand fundraising.”

Associate Professor Curtis, who leads research on Parkinson’s at the Centre for Brain Research, said the new evidence is the first proof, using donated human brains, of the mechanism that cells use to spread this key alpha-synculein protein in a person affected by Parkinson’s.

Dr Curtis said while the research had only been contacted in cells and not live brains, he was very proud of his team’s work including that of post-doctoral researcher and lead author Dr Dieriks.

Parkinson’s New Zealand board member Judy Clarke has been living with Parkinson’s for 11 years.

“It’s great that New Zealand is playing such an active role in Parkinson’s research,” said Mrs Clarke.

“Researchers and people with Parkinson’s are getting together to make progress in understanding Parkinson’s. Hopefully we can find something that will make it go away.”

The work was made possible by the Centre’s Human Brain Bank initiative supported by Parkinson’s New Zealand as well as through funding from the Neuro Research Charitable Trust.

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurodegenerative condition. It is caused by insufficient quantities of dopamine - a chemical in the brain. Dopamine enables quick, well-coordinated movement. When dopamine levels fall, movements become slow and awkward. Parkinson’s has both motor and non-motor symptoms, and while it cannot be cured it can be treated.


For media enquiries: Julianne Ryan, Communications Coordinator, 0210703308 


Notes for the editor

About Parkinson’s

  • One in every 500 New Zealanders has Parkinson’s – around 13,000 people.
  • People with Parkinson’s tend not to refer to themselves as ‘sufferers’, opting for a more positive ‘people living with Parkinson’s’.
  • Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition that occurs when insufficient quantities of the chemical dopamine are produced by the brain
  • A large number of people with Parkinson’s are aged over 65, however the average age of diagnosis is 59, and many New Zealanders are diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s in their thirties and forties.
  • The main motor symptoms of Parkinson’s are:
    • Tremor (shaking)
    • Stiffness and rigidity
    • Slowness of movement (bradykinesia)
    • Other symptoms can include changes in mood and anxiety, poor balance and altered speech

About Parkinson’s New Zealand

  • Parkinson’s New Zealand is a national not-for-profit with 20 divisions and branches throughout the country and 32 Community Educators who work with people with Parkinson’s as part of multi-disciplinary teams
  • Contact details for Parkinson’s Community Educators are available on www.parkinsons.org.nz or by phoning 04 801 8850 or 0800 473 463. 
  • Parkinson’s New Zealand is a community based, non-profit organisation, registered with the Charities Commission and reliant on funding from grants, bequests and donations.