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Dunedin-Shanghai MoU Supports Significant Parkinson’s Disease Research Collaboration

 A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between Enterprise Dunedin, the University of Otago and the Shanghai Science and Technology Commission in 2016 has ensured funding for a third major science and technology research collaboration between the University of Otago and Shanghai Mental Health Centre.

The latest three-year project will support collaborative research by Shanghai Ruijin Hospital Professor Li Dianyou and University of Otago Professor Dirk De Ridder. The project will receive funding of RMB450,000 (NZ$100,000) from the Shanghai Science and Technology Commission.

Professor De Ridder, who holds the University’s Neurological Foundation Chair in Neurosurgery, says the research will attempt to better understand a side effect of Deep Brain Stimulation in patients with Parkinson’s disease, i.e. apathy.

“Deep Brain Stimulation is a common surgical electrode implant procedure which can help control some motor symptoms in Parkinson’s patients. The side effect is most likely due to the motivation circuit in the brain being supressed by the implant’s electrical stimulation. This results in slowing of brain activity in the frontal cortex, as if that part of the brain is drowsy or sleepy. Nearly 40% of patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) show apathy, which heavily affects the quality of life.

“In this collaborative study with Li Dianyou, we want to better understand the mechanisms by recording the electrical activity at the electrodes as well as in the frontal cortex via EEG. We subsequently want to activate the frontal cortex using non-invasive brain stimulation using transcranial alternating current stimulation (low-intensity electrical current) to reduce the apathy.

Professor De Ridder says there are many advantages to our collaboration, including the phenomenal scale for conducting quality trials within Shanghai's large population.

“This is an area where our Chinese partners really value that we are a well-reputed, research-intensive university with stringent ethics, in an English-speaking country. The facilities in China are second to none and their researchers are first class. Collaborating with them may lead to further ideas and possibly further opportunities for funding.”

The MoU signed between the Shanghai Science and Technology Commission and Enterprise Dunedin has significantly facilitated and promoted scientific cooperation between the two sister cities. Such collaborative opportunity is very special for researchers at the University of Otago.

The Dunedin City Council’s Enterprise Dunedin Director, John Christie, adds, “The New Zealand Consul General office in Shanghai has played a significant role in facilitating and supporting the establishment of the relationship between Shanghai Science and Technology Commission and Enterprise Dunedin, which has been of enormous benefit to both countries in terms of supporting high-quality research.

“Dunedin’s reputation as a centre of educational and research excellence is noted at the highest levels within China thanks to collaborative projects like this. This displays the importance of our sister city relationship with Shanghai, and the potential that lies in our friendship ties with other Chinese cities. “

University of Otago Deputy Vice-Chancellor (External Engagement), Professor Helen Nicholson, says, “I am delighted to hear that Professors Dirk De Ridder and Li Dianyou have received funding for this collaborative project. This exciting work between two international researchers builds on and will further develop the strong sister city relationship between Dunedin and Shanghai.”

The first collaboration to benefit from the MoU assisted with gout related research by Otago’s Professor Tony Merriam and Shanghai Jiaotong University’s Professor Shi Yongyong in 2017. Last year, Shanghai Mental Health Centre’s Professor Wang Jijun and University of Otago Anatomy Associate Professor Liu Ping received funding for joint research on Alzheimer's disease and psychosis research.

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