Monday, 11 April 2016

SPHPM study on the prevalence of Parkinson’s disease in rural areas released

SPHPM researchers teamed up with the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health on a new study that has been released today to coincide with World Parkinson’s Day. The landmark study uncovers the prevalence of Parkinson’s in a cluster of rural Victorian areas, highlighting the need for further research.

Researchers identified that four neighbouring local government areas in North West Victoria (Buloke, Horsham, Northern Grampians and Yarriambiack) are exceptions to the rule that Parkinson’s prevalence does not differ between urban and rural locations.

According to SPHPM Research Fellow Dr Darshini Ayton, Dr Scott Ayton and Dr Narelle Warren, recorded cases of Parkinson’s were 78 per cent higher than average in Buloke, 76 per cent higher in Horsham, 57 per cent higher in Northern Grampians and 34 per cent higher in Yarriambiack.

“The four neighbouring areas that we identified as having an unusually high prevalence of Parkinson’s suggests that there is an underlying reason for this increased risk, which warrants further study,” said study co-author Dr Darshini Ayton.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that within these four rural regions an increased farming production of barley and pulses (chickpeas, faba beans, lentils and vetches) exists. This correlation has prompted Parkinson’s Victoria to call for further research to better understand the causes of Parkinson’s, including the possible connection between farming practices associated with the production of pulses and an increased risk of Parkinson’s.

“Parkinson’s currently affects over 27,000 people in Victoria and we welcome investment in research projects to learn more about possible causes. This new report, focusing on one possible cause, suggests we should be exploring the potential link between the use of pesticides used in the farming of pulses and an increased risk of Parkinson’s. With a greater understanding of the causal factors that increase the risk of Parkinson’s, we have greater hope of finding a cure,” said Emma Collin, CEO of Parkinson’s Victoria.

“Our approach was to overlay Parkinson’s drug usage across local government areas within Victoria to understand if Parkinson’s prevalence differs between urban and rural locations. We then applied an additional overlay of the intensity of agricultural production for each area to identify if a correlation exists between the risk of Parkinson’s and farming techniques.” said Dr Scott Ayton, Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health.

The researchers released their findings as part of the InSearch: Parkinson’s Research series, which provides the Parkinson’s community with a unique opportunity to gain insights into the latest findings from ground-breaking Australian Parkinson's research.

While the research does not investigate pesticides directly, the research uncovered a link between increased Parkinson’s prevalence and a geographical location. Dr Ayton stressed that more research needs to be conducted to determine what might be the underlying cause for an increased risk of Parkinson’s.

“By digging deeper we hope to get a clearer picture of increased risks that will then inform ways to avoid said risks and work towards a cure.”

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