Breakthrough research has identified that cyanotoxins which could be the cause of terminal illness, Motor Neurone Disease, are present in New South Wales waterways.
Macquarie University Motor Neurone Disease Research Centre released new research on March 11 identifying that the cyanotoxin called β-methylamino-l-alanine (BMAA) is present in freshwater, saltwater and terrestrial ecosystems.
Motor Neurone Disease (MND) is a progressive disease that affects the ability to move, speak, eat and breathe. Approximately 50% of patients die within 18 months of diagnosis.
Key researcher in this project and Associate Professor at UTS, Kenneth Rodgers, explained why this research took place.
"One neurologist told me that he knew three rugby union half backs that have MND. Halfbacks get in the scrum and rub their hands in the grass and lick them to keep their hands rough for the ball. This cyanobacteria was present in the fertiliser."
Noticing this cyanobacteria is also present in algal blooms, researchers tested the waters. “We took samples of the algal blooms to test for the presence of these toxins from around 13 different sites around the country. From Manly dam, to the duck pond at Centennial Park, to out in Griffith.”
The number of Motor Neurone Disease cases in Griffith has more than tripled in the past 10 years. The number of patients to population is ten times as great compared to other areas in Australia.
“The thing with Griffith is that a lot of researchers at the clinic think it’s a hotspot for MND, because there’s more patients from that area than there should be."
Griffith is an agricultural region which exposes the population to chemicals through pesticides and insecticides, while they also live near Lake Wyangan, which has a large amount of algal blooms.
Griffith community member, Michelle Vearing said the findings had caused alarm in the community with many people staying clear of the lake and other waterways.
In 2011, Griffith started an MND support group for local patients to raise awareness and funds for the increasing number of victims.
“I am relieved to know the hard work the researchers have done is starting to pay off. It’s exciting to know what is causing MND as it’s the first step to finding a cure,” Ms Vearing said.
There’s an increase in MND cases and there’s an increase in these algal blooms, and it’s happening together. While researchers keep working to find a cure, patients can use the little time they have left to live in the hope that a cure is found.
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