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  • Writer's pictureKenneth Gibson MSP

Scotland Leads Tackling Neurodegenerative Diseases

Sadly, many of us will be affected by Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease at some point in our lives, whether personally or through a partner or relative. My mother suffers from Alzheimer’s and I am acutely aware of the toll it takes on sufferers and their families. One of the conditions associated with these neurodegenerative diseases is dementia. It affects the brain, causing a progressive decline and loss of cognitive ability, making it difficult for an individual to perform the simplest of tasks and often resulting, eventually, in the need for 24 hour care.

Over 90,000 people in Scotland suffer from dementia; 2,571 of whom live in North Ayrshire. Given Scotland’s ageing population, the SNP Government is keen to do as much as possible to facilitate support and research into progressive neurodegenerative conditions. It allocated £100,000 to Alzheimer Scotland earlier this year whilst the Scottish Huntington’s Association received a £120,000 grant to develop better care in partnership with patients, the SNP Government and other stakeholders. Another £112,000 was allocated to fund a three-year PhD research into Huntington’s disease.

Most people are familiar with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, but not everyone is aware of the progressive neurodegenerative Huntington’s disease, a hereditary brain condition which manifests itself through changes in muscle control, cognition and mental well-being. Approximately 1 in 10,000 people in Scotland suffer from it. Those who carry Huntington’s disease have a 50/50 chance of passing on the gene to their children.

Early physical symptoms include uncontrollable facial movements and jerking, flicking or fidgety movements of the limbs and body. There are also behavioral changes such as irritability, a lack of empathy for others and depression. As the disease progresses, patients require specific care and in North Ayrshire we are lucky enough to have care centres in Beith, Millport and Saltcoats to provide appropriate support.

Last week, researchers at the University of Glasgow and Dundee University made a breakthrough discovery in the search for what causes conditions such as Alzheimer’s Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease. Research discovered that a gene called UBQLN2 helps to remove protein clumps from nerve and brain cells before they can become problematic. It now appears that a mutation in that gene prevents it from effectively removing such clumps and this can lead to the formation of neurodegenerative diseases.

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Aberdeen have been successfully developing prototype drugs aimed at slowing brain deterioration in Alzheimer’s patients. This is the first ever accomplishment in halting the deterioration of reasoning and memory skills amongst several patients over an 18-month period, which is a significant step in the right direction on the road to developing effective treatment.

If you or someone you know might suffer from any of the above diseases, please contact your GP. Support and further information is provided by the Scottish Huntington’s Association and two specialists in North Ayrshire who can be contacted at: or on 01294 322305. The Ayrshire Branch of Parkinson’s UK is chaired by Ms Jeanette Appleby, who is available at: or on 07765 841798 for information about meetings and support. Alzheimer Scotland’s North Ayrshire Dementia Adviser Donna Paterson can be reached at: or on 01294 608219. Alzheimer’s Scotland is also based at The Harbour Centre, 38 Parkhouse Road, Ardrossan.

It is heartening to know that funds invested in research are being brought to fruition and the development of medication for neurodegenerative diseases is moving firmly in the right direction. Hopefully we will soon be able to dramatically reduce the impact of neurodegenerative diseases, thanks to ongoing research here in Scotland. In the meantime, support is out there!



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