Parkinson’s disease cluster has pulses racing

CONCERN: Barry Clugston, on a property just outside of Stawell, lives with Parkinson’s disease. A new study shows a spike in people developing Parkinson’s disease in particular agricultural areas in regional Victoria. Picture: SIMON O’DWYERA cluster of Parkinson’s disease has been discovered in a key Victorian barley, chick pea and lentil farming region where researchers sayits prevalenceis up to 78 per cent higher than the rest of the state.

The discoveryby a team of health researchers and scientistshas sparked calls for urgent research into links withpesticides and other farming techniques used in the Grampiansand Loddon Mallee regions.

The abnormally high rates werefound in four neighbouring local government areas in the north west thatall produce barley and pulses (chickpeas, beans and lentils), by a joint Monash University and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health study.

Theyreportthe rate of Parkinson’s was78 per cent higher than the state average of .5 per cent in theBulokeShire, 76 per cent higherinHorsham, 57 per cent higher in theNorthern Grampians and 34 per cent higher inYarriambiack.

The research, expected to be published in late 2016, was funded by Parkinson’s Victoria and lead by a husband and wife duo:health services researcherDrDarshiniAytonandneuroscientistDr ScottAyton.

Their work with Dr Narelle Warrenbuilds on international studies that have alreadyfound strong links between the pesticides Rotenone andParaquat,and Parkinson’s disease.

Although people living in the identified areas are more likely to develop Parkinson’s than those in other areas, the prevalence of the condition is still only about 1 per cent of the population in those communities and researchers sayis not cause for panic.

The idea for a geographical study was conceived when DrDarshiniAytoncame home one night to tell her husband all these people from farming areas she’d interviewed blamed pesticides for their Parkinson’s disease.

“Because he’s a laboratory scientist, he said they use pesticides in high doses to induce Parkinson’s disease in a laboratory,” she said. “That’s when we started working together on the project.”

Hoping to determine whether there wasa greater likelihood of developing Parkinson’sinthecountry than the city (there’s not), theyoverlayeddata from the pharmaceutical benefits scheme with ABS dataand discovered something else entirely: a cluster.

“We were shocked…It is a surprise but we’re really now looking for the answers to it,”DrDarshiniAytonsaid.”This research by no means says that pesticides caused Parkinson’s disease here but we need to do further research to find out what actually happened in these four areas.”

Theiranalysiswas done using percentages, rather than raw numbers, to account for differences in population size andage.

BarryClugston, 69, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about eight years ago, lives in the NorthernGrampiansand has spent most of his life in farming regions.

He believes it’s possible that chemicals used in pulse farming could be linked to his disease but wants to see proof. “There’s a lot of discussion in the community about these things and yet nobody can prove it,” he said.

“The area that’s been detected is a key broad acre cereal growing area of Victoria so it would be a high concentration of chemicals being used there.

“Ifchemicals are one of the causes for Parkinson’s I’d be really keen to have some scientific basis.”

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition that affects about 27,000 people in Victoria and70,000 nationally, which Parkinson’s Victoria chair, Associate ProfessorDavidFinkelstein, said is expected todouble over the next 15 years.

Associate ProfessorFinkelsteinsaid there was agrowing internationalbody of research pointing to a link between pesticides and Parkinson’s, but”no smoking gun”. “All these little bits of evidence are coming together to point to pesticides,” he said.

“We compare what we found with what’s been found overseas, different research teams using different research methods, are finding the same thing.”