International experts attend Sydney Freezing Symposium at the BMRI

Photograph from the Sydney Freezing Symposium

Researchers from around the globe convened today at the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Research Institute (BMRI) for the Sydney Freezing Symposium, a satellite session of the International Movement Disorders Society Congress.

Topics presented included basic and clinical neuroscience approaches to improve our understanding of freezing behaviour, a disabling symptom common in Parkinson’s disease whereby a person is suddenly unable to move their feet.

"Freezing of Gait is one of the main causes of nursing home placements among people who have Parkinson’s disease" said Associate Professor Simon Lewis.

The first series of talks highlighted the exciting work currently being undertaken by the members of Professor Alice Nieuwboer’s laboratory at KU Leuven in Belgium.

Dr Sarah Vercruysse, a post doctoral researcher at KU Leuven, presented data from the broad range of studies currently being undertaken by their laboratory, including results from recent functional MRI studies that are helping to improve our understanding of the abnormal patterns of brain activity underlying freezing behaviour in the upper limbs.

This work was followed by an outline of an outgoing study led by Griet Vervoot that will use neuroimaging assessments to determine changes occurring in the brain that accompany the emergence of Freezing of Gait in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Following a short break, Associate Professor Quincy Almeida from Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada presented a scintillating talk that highlighted his group’s recent efforts to clarify the precise role of sensorimotor integration deficits in the pathophysiology of freezing of gait in Parkinson’s disease.

Professor Colum MacKinnon from the University of Minnesota then described illuminating results from studies that suggest a strong clinical link between freezing of gait and a troubling sleep disorder in which sufferers "act out" their dreams while asleep (REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder).

Finally, Dr James ‘Mac’ Shine presented findings from his PhD at the BMRI which suggest that freezing behaviour may be due to the breakdown in communication between the brain networks involved in attention.

"The symposium was a great success and there was a strong sense that, despite the fundamentally different techniques used by each group, critical insights are being uncovered in the pathophysiological mechanism of freezing in Parkinson’s disease" said Associate Professor Lewis.

Most importantly, it is hoped that the event will spawn a series of new international collaborations, which can only be seen as good news for Parkinson’s disease patients around the world.