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What a difference a day makes!

Learn how your support can help make a daily difference in the lives of those working to help people living with Parkinson's disease.

Brownyn Riley is a perfect example of the difference 365 days can make.

A profile picture of Bronwyn Riley
Bronwyn Riley

In 2021, Bronwyn completed her University of Auckland bachelor's degree, majoring in neuroscience. Fast forward on a year, Bronwyn was awarded an AMRF doctoral scholarship to research Parkinson's disease – work inspired by her revered grandfather, Emeritus Professor John Gavin, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

Bronwyn is part of a laboratory group investigating the role of a region of the brain called the tail striatum. Their investigations are looking at symptoms of Parkinson's disease that are different from the usual symptoms affecting motor function.

"Parkinson's is characterised by the death of dopamine-producing cells in the brain, a debilitating disease impacting over 10,000 New Zealanders. In another decade's time, this figure will climb to ~18,000," explains Bronwyn.

"Although often considered a 'movement disorder', people with Parkinson's experience non-movement symptoms including impaired sensory perception. Vivid, detailed, visual hallucinations are common in up to 75% of patients. Less frequently there are auditory hallucinations, largely non-verbal muffled sounds. These non-movement symptoms can cause distressing disruption to daily life and overall well-being."

The mechanisms behind these non-motor symptoms remain frustratingly elusive and to make matters worse, these symptoms are commonly triggered and worsened by existing treatments.

In her quest to find answers around the causes of non-motor symptoms in Parkinson's, Bronwyn's daily spotlight remains firmly fixed on the tail striatum and its function in regulating how we experience and respond to sensory stimuli.

"We know that the level of dopamine in the tail striatum determines how responsive it is to sensory input and in Parkinson's disease, dopamine is depleted – therefore, neurons respond to input abnormally.

"So we're on a mission to determine how dopamine availability alters the response of tail striatum neurons to what we see, touch, smell, taste or hear in the different cell types and distinct regions within the tail striatum."

"Evidence from my current research supports the idea that dopaminergic neurotransmission varies between the regions of the tail striatum. Using technology called 'fast-scan cyclic voltammetry' we can measure dopamine effects in the four different sub-regions of the tail striatum".


The results from Bronwyn's ongoing study confirmed this novel variation within the tail striatum, emphasising further investigation being needed into the dorsal, lateral and medial tail sub-regions.


And this leads us back to what a difference a day makes! Your support allows Bronwyn to don her lab coat every day and continue in her quest to find answers to help lessen the impact of Parkinson's disease.


And what goes around comes around.


Your support has meant Bronwyn will be supervised by a world-class researcher in Parkinson's disease – Dr Peter Freestone. Peter, who has been funded by AMRF donors since 2011, is working on a revolutionary new approach to help treat Parkinson's disease and is now giving back through assisting Bronwyn in her own research development.

By supporting researchers like Bronwyn and Peter, you are making a daily difference in the lives of others. That's why a gift from you today is so vital for our tomorrow. Health and medical researchers in Auckland are working right now to build a better future for us all, from enhanced skin cancer diagnosis, improved outcomes for patients with brain cancer, identifying long-term effects of worldwide premature baby medication, finding a cure for tinnitus, better understanding of high blood pressure, to treatments for neurological conditions and much, much more.



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