Helping people with Parkinson’s – research volunteers wanted

A research project in Western Australia needs volunteers who have Parkinson’s disease, to try to make them feel happier. Meanwhile, other WA researchers are busy creating new drugs that could also improve the lives of people with the condition.

A Curtin University PhD student needs volunteers with Parkinson’s disease to take part in a clinical trial of a way to treat anxiety and depression without medication.

The treatment consists of one session per week, over eight weeks, and will be adapted towards issues specific to Parkinson’s disease.

The program will involve activities and discussions where participants will learn new skills and strategies to combat anxiety and depression, and will be run by two clinical psychologist trainees under the supervision of a registered clinical psychologist.

Participants will also complete a set of questionnaires four times throughout the study, and the results of the clinical trial will be published by Lakkhina Troeung in her PhD thesis.

Anxiety and depression affects up to 75 per cent of people who have Parkinson’s, and has been linked with a faster progression of motor symptoms, poorer quality of life and greater cognitive decline, according a statement from Curtin University.

Ms Troeung, a PhD student from Curtin’s School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, developed the program using Cognitive-Behavioural Treatment (CBT) to treating anxiety and depression in people with Parkinson’s, and will now examine its effectiveness with the group of volunteers.

CBT addresses negative thinking patterns and has been shown to be a very effective way of treating anxiety and depression in many different groups of people, without using medication.

“Our clinical trial has been running over the past 12 months and the initial results are very positive. However, we still need more volunteers to take part in order to get a clear picture of the CBT program’s effectiveness,” Ms Troeung said in a statement.

According to the study’s supervisor, Dr Sarah Egan, treating anxiety and depression in people with Parkinson’s disease had been shown to significantly improve their quality of life.

“A program like this can improve quality of life for people with Parkinson’s as it can help them find the best ways to cope with the adaptations they need to make to their daily life and adjust to the stress of the illness,” Dr Egan said.

Volunteers are asked to contact Lakkhina Troeung on 08 9266 3436 or email

Clever chemicals

Another group of Western Australian researchers are also working on improving quality of life for people with Parkinson’s, by developing new drugs that mimic some helpful effects of the illegal party drug ecstasy.

According to Associate Professor Matthew Piggott from the University of Western Australia, it has been known for some time that the active ingredient in ecstasy, methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), helps reduce the uncontrollable movements that affect people with the neurological condition. 

But MDMA itself is unsuitable, due to the possibility it could cause damage to the brain, as well as the narcotic effect sought by ecstasy users.

The team of UWA scientists, in collaboration with Parkinson’s disease experts in Toronto, has now demonstrated that it is possible to dissociate the beneficial effects of MDMA from its undesirable attributes. The feat was achieved through the creation of MDMA analogues – new compounds with a similar chemical structure to MDMA.

Parkinson’s disease makes it very difficult to move at all, and although the drug levodopa restores movement, side-effects often develop over time. These side-effects of levodopa include jerky, involuntary movements known as dyskinesia, and a reduction in the periods of time when the levodopa is effective, known as ‘on-time’.

“Dyskinesia is often confused as a symptom of Parkinson’s disease, when in fact it is a side-effect of the treatment,” Associate Professor Piggott said.

“For some time now we’ve known that the drug most commonly sold as ‘ecstasy’ … ameliorates the side-effects of levodopa therapy. But MDMA has no therapeutic potential because it makes users ‘high’. Although controversial, there is also evidence that MDMA may be neurotoxic, or at least responsible for long-term, deleterious changes in brain chemistry.”

The best MDMA analogue developed by the research team is called UWA-101, and has been shown to be more effective than MDMA at enhancing the quality of levodopa therapy, in tests using animals. The exeriments have also shown that it is unlikely to be psychoactive or toxic, according to the researchers.

“If translated to a medicine, this would mean that Parkinson’s patients could take their medication less frequently and get a better quality result from it,” Prof Piggott said.

The results were recently published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

Tags: curtin-university, depression, mental-health, parkinson, parkinsons-disease, university-of-western-australia,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *