News

Award money funds exploration of link between REM and Parkinson's


2 October 2012

Professor Ron Grunstein: "Why we sleep, what happens when we don't sleep, what are the consequences for society - it is a huge challenge."
Professor Ron Grunstein: "Why we sleep, what happens when we don't sleep, what are the consequences for society - it is a huge challenge."

A University of Sydney sleep expert will use money from a recent award to study how sleep disorders can predict the development of neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease.

Professor Ron Grunstein from Sydney Medical School will dedicate some of the $50,000 he received for winning the 2012 Royal Prince Alfred Foundation Medal to establishing long-term studies, including how acting out during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep can predict Parkinson's disease.

"About three decades ago it was apparent there was a link between people who act out their dreams during REM sleep, such as thrashing about, cycling, hitting walls etc, but we are now looking for specific markers that allow us to much more accurately predict which of those people might develop Parkinson's disease, and perhaps delay or prevent its progression,'' Professor Grunstein said.

"We have very few prodromal [early symptom] markers of Parkinson's, yet over a 10-year period about 60 to 70 percent of those people who act out during REM sleep will develop the disease. The money from this award will allow us to do brain imaging on these people."

The 2012 Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Foundation Medal was awarded to Professor Grunstein for his work on sleep disorders, particularly his research on the metabolic and neurobiological links between sleep problems and Parkinson's disease.

Professor Grunstein has a strong interest in translational clinical research in sleep health. His current main interests involve the metabolic and neurobiological effects of sleep loss, particularly on shift workers and the elderly.

"The economic cost of insomnia is billions of dollars in lost productivity, absenteeism, and increased rates of depression. Why we sleep, what happens when we don't sleep, what are the consequences for society - it is a huge challenge."

Part of the attraction of sleep research for Professor Grunstein is the bizarre influence sleep and its deprivation can have on the human body and brain.

"I've had a man who snored so loudly that guys from the other side of the river came over and said it was common courtesy to turn off the engine of your boat at night, and body corporates taking legal action to get people out of home units because of the noise they've made," he said.

Professor Grunstein has worked at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital since 1988, is a staff specialist physician in respiratory and sleep medicine, has an honorary appointment in respiratory and sleep medicine at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, and heads the Sleep and Circadian Research Group at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research.


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Media enquiries: Verity Leatherdale, 02 9351 4312, 0403 067 342, verity.leatherdale@sydney.edu.au