Researching the cause and treatment of Parkinson’s disease

For almost 20 years, GRIDD Deputy Director Professor George Mellick has explored the puzzle of Parkinson's disease. 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.

Research approach

The Mellick team accesses the Queensland Parkinson's Project—a collection of blood and tissue samples from 5,000 Queenslanders who either have the disease, have family members with the disease or are of similar age to people with Parkinson’s.

The team uses innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to profile and differentiate cells taken from people with or without the disease. Taking 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.

Research focus

This team brings information together from many strands of research. One of the team’s research streams 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.

The team also uses next-generation DNA and RNA sequencing 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 support

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, including:

  • National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)
  • Clem Jones Foundation
  • AEGIUM Foundation,
  • Parkinson's Queensland
  • Michael J Fox Foundation.

Funding and donations are vital to this research as identifying the causes and discovering new drugs are lengthy and complex processes.

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