Home' Southern Health News : Southern Health News June 2013 Contents Flinders Medical Centre and Flinders University
Neurologist Associate Professor Rob Wilcox and
University of South Australia Senior Research
Fellow Dr Gabrielle Todd have teamed up to
investigate brain changes associated with illegal
stimulant use -- in particular brain regions that
Associate Professor Wilcox said the research was
extremely important, with statistics showing a
high number of Australians had tried or used
illegal stimulant drugs in their lifetime.
"Illegal drug use is a very big problem in Australia
and New Zealand -- the rate of illegal stimulant
use is two to five times higher than countries in
Europe and North America," he said.
"Methamphetamine is also highly addictive so
people may use this drug frequently over a period
"We are concerned that this high rate of illegal
stimulant use may lead to future health problems
associated with movement. The people using
these drugs see them as a recreational day or
night out, but might not realise the consequences
of what will happen to them 10, 20 or 30 years in
Dr Todd and her colleagues have shown that people
with a history of illegal stimulant use have changes
in brain regions that control movement. One of the
changes is known to be a significant risk factor for
developing Parkinson's disease later in life.
New drug use risk
BY SARAH GARVIS
Use of illegal stimulant drugs, such as methamphetamine and ecstasy, could
lead to a rise in the number of people developing a Parkinson's-like syndrome
later in life, according to new research.
University of South Australia Senior
Research Fellow Dr Gabrielle Todd
performs an ultrasound scan on the brain of
a non-drug user at Flinders Medical Centre.
"Illegal stimulant drugs cause an abnormally
potent release of the brain chemical dopamine.
In fact, they might burn the system out -- what
neurologists call excitotoxicity, so make the system
run too fast and wear it out before its time," he
"However, it's possible that certain byproducts
or inappropriate things in the drugs could also
be causing problems, but we think the pattern
is more closely related to the chemistry of the
stimulant drugs themselves."
The research team is now looking at whether
these brain changes affect speech, hand function,
walking, and balance. The study will involve 200
participants with and without a history of drug
"We hope that the information gained can be
used to aid future public health campaigns," Dr
"Visual footage of a young person struggling to
perform the movements that allow them to have
a normal life could be a really powerful tool to
discourage people from using these drugs."
Researchers are seeking participants aged
between 18 and 50 years. If you are interested
in taking part in the study, please contact
Verity Pearson-Dennett on 0422 069 170 or
What is Parkinson's disease?
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressively
degenerative neurological disorder which
affects the control of body movements.
Symptoms result from the progressive
degeneration of neuronal cells located
in the substantia nigra. This causes
a deficiency in the availability of
dopamine -- a chemical messenger
necessary for the production of
smooth controlled movements.
PD symptoms appear when about
70% of dopamine producing cells
in the substantia nigra are lost.
What are the symptoms?
The presentation of symptoms
varies greatly between individuals
diagnosed and no two people will
be affected in the same way.
The three main symptoms used in
diagnosis are tremor (shaking, trembling),
rigidity or stiffness of the muscles and
bradykinesia (slowness of movement).
Some patients may experience other
symptoms including pain and discomfort
in an arm or leg, anxiety and depression,
slowness of thinking, memory problems,
tiredness and disturbed sleep.
Is there a cure for
No, there is no cure for Parkinson's,
however symptoms can be somewhat
controlled by medication.
How is Parkinson's
Because the symptoms of Parkinson's
disease are caused by a lack of
dopamine in the brain, most drug
treatments are aimed at replacing,
boosting or mimicking dopamine.
(Information sourced from Parkinson's
SOUTHERN HEALTH NEWS / JUNE 2013 / 3
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