Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
Flinders Medical Centre Foundation



Friday, 30 April 2010 00:00

A team of Flinders researchers are the first and only group in the world able to isolate the abnormal clusters of proteins which cause the death of brain cells in Parkinson's and related degenerative diseases.

Dr Wei Ping Gai, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Human Physiology at Flinders Medical Centre, has been researching the causes of brain cell death in degenerative diseases for the past 20 years.

His research has had a particular focus on Lewy bodies - abnormal clusters of proteins which are found in the brain  cells of both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's sufferers and in some types of dementia.

Dr Gai and his team have developed a world-first technique that uses antibodies attached to magnetic beads to bind to a particular protein (Alpha-synuclein) that is the largest component of Lewy bodies.  They are then able to extract the Lewy bodies from Parkinson's affected brain tissue for detailed protein analysis.

This has allowed the Flinders team to be the first in the world to describe the internal structure of the Lewy body formations (which have a very precise structure), and to work in collaboration with teams from Elan Pharmaceuticals and Harvard Medical School to identify other proteins and components of the Lewy bodies.

The collaboration has recently uncovered that the addition or lack of  phosphates on this target protein could play a role in the formation of the Lewy bodies.  This interaction of this protein with the phosphates may also explain why the Lewy bodies react with the cell membrane to cause the cell's death.

The team hope that if they identify why proteins such as Alpha-synuclein form Lewy bodies, their research will pave the way for developing new diagnostic markers and drugs which can modify this process in both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.




Friday, 30 April 2010 00:00

A Flinders team hope to prove something as simple as swimming in salt water chlorinated pools can reduce the alarming number of middle ear infections in children in remote Indigenous communities.

Supported by a $662,000 Federal Department of Health and Ageing grant, five staff and eight students from Flinders travel to the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands of northern South Australia and to the western Yalata community twice per year to assesses children for middle ear disease and related hearing loss.
The study is based on research led by audiologist Associate Professor Linnett Sanchez and ear, nose and throat surgeon Associate Professor Simon Carney which has shown about 70 per cent of school-age children living in Anangu communities in South Australia fail a screening hearing test.

30 per cent of these children have eardrum perforations (when injury to the ear or fluid accumulation from infection causes the thin membrane of the ear drum to rupture) compared to about 1 per cent of children living in Adelaide. 

"We are seeing in Indigenous children persistent, significant hearing loss right through their educational years," Associate Professor Sanchez said.  "This hearing loss can impact on children‘s education and social development, with serious consequences throughout life."

Last year the team tested 702 indigenous children from four communities which have swimming pools and seven which do not.  Data are collected in autumn (at the end of the swimming season) and again in spring to examine whether there has been an effect on infections during the time the children have been unable to swim.

The large-scale study over three years hopes to replicate the positive findings of a small scale study by a Western Australian research team. The Flinders team believe any benefits established by the trial may be attributed to the combination of the irrigatory effect of the saline and the chemical effect of chlorination.

If findings show a benefit from swimming, it is expected that more remote communities will be able to better argue for government funding to install salt water pools.


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