The Woolcock Institute of Medical Research

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Can we predict Parkinson's Disease from sleep patterns?

Thursday, April 08, 2021

World Parkinson’s Day on 11 April celebrates the birthday of James Parkinson, who first described the condition in 1817. The day gives us a chance to both celebrate our successes in understanding and treating Parkinson's Disease, and focus on the challenges that lie ahead.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition that results from a progressive loss of cells in the brain.

Parkinson’s affects 1 to 2 percent of people over 60 years old. With an ageing population, it's estimated that there will be 14.2 million cases of Parkinson's disease worldwide by 2040.

What are the challenges?

We currently have no diagnostic test or cure for Parkinson’s Disease.

Although Parkinson’s does not typically shorten life, it impacts significantly on a person's quality of life.  

Existing treatments can help relieve many of the disease's symptoms, but there is still much to be done.

What's the Woolcock doing?

Professor Simon Lewis, a specialist at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, is also an NHMRC Leadership Fellow who heads a team of researchers striving to better predict, diagnose and treat Parkinson’s.

The team's work has found that specific sleep disturbances may be used to identify people who may be developing Parkinson's, even before they develop physical symptoms of the condition. 

The hope is that insights gained from a person's sleep patterns might in future allow for early treatment of Parkinson's.

Professor Lewis is the Clinical Lead for the Australian Parkinson’s Mission, which is establishing a series of nationwide trials to investigate new treatment approaches for Parkinson’s Disease. 

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