'We need a cure': 200 years too long for Parkinson's

It's been 200 years since Parkinson's disease was first identified, and to mark the anniversary a new global campaign has been launched to raise awareness and funds for a cure for the debilitating condition.

In Melbourne's National Gallery, metres of blank canvas stretch across the Great Hall.

One by one, people of all ages line up to have their hands brushed with purple paint before making their impression on the white surface.

By June, it will be a giant mural representing the thousands of Australians living with Parkinson's disease.

Ester Gardner was diagnosed with the disease when she was 47.

"My biggest fear is not being able to get through the day, not being able to look after my daughter... and having to rely on people to do things for me," she said.

Ester Gardner lives with Parkinson's
Ester Gardner lives with Parkinson's disease.
SBS


Support groups are using the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Parkinson's to spread awareness, and push for additional research funding.

Associate Professor David Finkelstein of the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health said research has come a long way in the past 50 years, but now is the time to push for faster progress.

"200 years is too long, we need a cure. We have made remarkable advances in science and we are this close in my belief to making significant changes but they're happening too slowly for people with Parkinson's."

But a large-scale clinical trial spanning 28 countries may be on the verge of a breakthrough.

Leading the trial professor David Devos of the University of Lille Nord de France said his group has discovered that elevation of brain iron is one of the defining features of Parkinson's, and an effective treatment may be just five years away.

"We are very close to having the first treatment to slow down the progression of the disease but it depends on your definition of a cure, if it's stopping the disease it will take a lot of years," he said.

More than 6,000,000 people worldwide live with Parkinson's, over 80,000 in Australia, and every day 30 more are diagnosed, according to Parkinson's Victoria.

The struggles of well known figures such as boxer Muhammad Ali, diagnosed at 42, and actor Michael J. Fox, diagnosed aged just 29, helped bring the disease into the spotlight.

But Olympian Steve Moneghetti said a lot of misunderstanding remains.

Olympian Steve Moneghetti helps to care for his mother
Olympian Steve Moneghetti helps to care for his mother who has Parkinson's disease.
SBS


"People think of the shaking disease but they don't understand there's so many other consequences. For my mum it's the embarrassment (of) the walking frame, it's a lack of mobility and almost a lack of independence."

For the next three months, members of the public who've been impacted by Parkinson's or who want to show their support are invited to add their hand print to the Unite canvas, whether in person or by emailing a digital print.

Parkinson's Victoria CEO Emma Collin said the aim is to keep the discussion going about the debilitating disease.

"It's about raising the awareness internationally. We think Parkinson's doesn't have the profile of some other conditions but it probably needs to, because so many people are impacted by this condition."

Results from the European study are due in 2019.