The Hippocampus in Parkinson’s Disease

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Status: In-progress
Year: 2018
Funded: $94,948
Grant Type: Major Project Grant

Parkinson’s disease currently affects 10,000 New Zealanders and this number is predicted to double over the next 25 years.
In addition to motor impairments, many people with Parkinson’s develop cognitive problems and, eventually, dementia.

We need to identify suitable objective tools that measure the underlying brain changes associated with cognitive decline.
Such tools are important clinically and for assessing new preventative treatments.

In this study, we will use comprehensive cognitive testing and brain imaging data to investigate the hippocampus, a key brain structure involved in memory. Leveraging our rich 10-year longitudinal study of cognition in Parkinson’s disease.

We will specifically investigate:

  1. How the hippocampus changes over time in Parkinson’s disease
  2. Whether brain imaging metrics from the hippocampus (including volume, blood flow, and white matter integrity) allow us to predict change in cognition (i.e., future cognition) in a clinically meaningful way.
Researcher // Associate Professor Tracy Melzer – University of Otago

Associate Professor Melzer is involved in a wide range of neurological research, including child development, mild traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, neurodegenerative diseases, and more. As a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Medicine, his primary focus is on the development and application of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) techniques to advance our understanding of cognitive decline in Parkinson’s disease.

More About Associate Professor Tracy Melzer

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects predominately dopamine-producing (“dopaminergic”)
neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra. Symptoms generally develop slowly over years. The progression of symptoms is often a bit different from one person to another due to the diversity of the disease. People with PD may experience: Tremor, mainly at rest and described as pill rolling tremor in hands, while other forms of tremor are possible; Bradykinesia; Limb rigidity; Gait and balance problems. The cause remains largely unknown. Although there is no cure, treatment options vary and include medications and surgery. While Parkinson’s itself is not fatal, disease complications can be serious, making research into this disease vital.

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Men are 1.5x more likely to have Parkinson’s than women.
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An estimated seven to 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson’s disease.
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4% of people with Parkinson’s are diagnosed before age 50.
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Approximately 1% of people over the age of 60 have the condition in NZ.

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