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Professor Glenda Halliday Leading The Way On A Cure For Parkinson’s Disease

glenda halliday and Nicolas Dzamko

Professor Glenda Halliday is leading women in international research to find a cure for Parkinson’s Disease, according to Shake It Up CEO Clyde Campbell.

“She has been working with Shake It Up on a number of studies to identify a biomarker for Parkinson’s which would be a game changer in terms of early diagnosis and will inform research for improved treatments to slow and stop disease progression,” says Clyde.

“We are fortunate to have someone of Glenda’s capability leading this research internationally.”

“We are fortunate to have someone of Glenda’s capability leading this research internationally.”

Clyde Campbell, Shake It Up CEO

Prof Halliday is currently leading a research program of ~70 researchers tackling non-Alzheimer’s neurodegeneration that stems from her work on frontotemporal and motor neurodegenerative syndromes, and Parkinson’s disease.

Here, Women Love Tech talks to Professor Halliday about her inspiring work, what sparked her interest in Parkinson’s and motor neurodegenerative syndromes and how people can support her research.

You’ve had an impressive career in STEM. Tell us what inspired you to focus on tackling Parkinson’s Disease?

I learnt about how drugs impact on the brain’s dopamine system in undergraduate psychology and became really curious as to their effects, and was puzzled that no-one really knew how the dopamine cells in the brain degenerated in Parkinson’s disease.

Naively, I thought that it would not be too hard to find out how these type of cells degenerated, and that started my scientific career. My initial studies told me they were not the only cells affected, so it has taken more time than I would have liked.

glenda halliday
Glenda Halliday

Tell us about your work with Shake It Up. 

Our work with Shake It Up has two agendas;

1) to identify key early cellular events that impact on the brain cells in Parkinson’s disease, and

2) to translate these findings into biomarkers we can measure in people’s blood samples to diagnose and track the disease

Your research has highlighted broader pathological involvement in Parkinson’s disease and especially in dementia with Lewy bodies, with recent work suggesting lysosome dysfunction and immunity are involved. What does this mean for the layman?

At present all therapies for Parkinson’s replace the lost dopamine in the brain. These therapies help the symptoms but do not stop the disease. The lysosomes are one of the cell’s waste disposal mechanisms and our data (and those of others) show that this system has problems prior to the loss of the cells. When this system has problems, the immune system of the brain is activated to assist, and this second system does not work optimally either. This gives us two targets to work on to get drugs that may fix these problems, and  we have developed the biomarkers to measure the severity of these problems in blood, thanks to funding from Shake It Up.  

What has really excited you about the progress you’ve made and the potential that means to people’s lives?

We are closer to knowing all the components of the disease itself, and this makes trying to develop viable therapeutic approaches a reasonable goal. I am hopeful that I will see a disease modifying therapy for patients as soon as possible.

What would a ‘cure’ for Parkinson’s mean to you? Is it hopeful?

I do think a “cure” is hopeful but not impossible. We now know a lot about the disease and that allows for targeted science rather than luck to guide progress.

What are the most difficult hurdles you face in your work? And how difficult is it to get funding? How can people help?

Funding in Australia has previously been difficult, but Shake It Up has made a big difference. Right now the careers of many of the younger researchers I work with are in jeopardy due to the impact of COVID-19 and governmental decisions on funding to academic institutions. I fear that a generation of great minds, and also the next generation yet to be trained, will not have a career path to make the advances in treating Parkinson’s and many other diseases. I am not sure how to change this at present.

How can we encourage more women to take up a career in STEM? 

I think this is very difficult at this time, and would really welcome any ideas.

What do you personally find so rewarding about your work?

I really like finding out new things I and no-one else knew, particularly if I can tell it will make an impact on a disease.

To support the valuable work of Shake It Up, contact: https://shakeitup.org.au/

Robyn Foyster

Written by Robyn Foyster

Robyn Foyster is an award-winning journalist and former Editor-In-Chief of The Australian Women's Weekly. She is also the owner and publisher of Women Love Tech, Game Changers and The Carousel. Robyn is the owner and founder of a tech business called AR tech, where she helped create the world's first AR community shopping app called Sweep and her team produced the 2018 Vivid app. She is a speaker and a judge of the Telstra Business Awards and Mumbrella Awards. Robyn is passionate about supporting women in STEM.

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