Today marked the first International Day of Happiness but in Dapto a mini-expo for Seniors Week addressed brain health and advances in research for diseases like Motor Neurone Disease.

Approximately 25 people in the Illawarra and one in 12,000 people in Australia live with from Motor Neurone Disease (MND). It is an aggressive disease that causes the nerve cells in the brain to die, leading to a loss of control of muscles, which eventually waste away.

PhD student Isabella Lambert Smith was awarded an Australian Rotary Health Funding Partner PhD Scholarship for $29,000 per year for the next three years to carry out research into the genetic causes of motor neurone disease at the School of Biological Sciences.

Isabella will conduct research under the direction of the IHMRI postdoctorate research scientist Dr. Justin Yerbury whose work originally inspired her to volunteer in the field.

“With Isabella’s project, we are looking at a range of genetic cause of MND and we want to find the common consequences of the mutations of different genes in the cell,” says Dr. Yerbury.

Dr. Yerbury lost his mother, sister and multiple extended family members to the disease and says the project will aim to help to find the common downfall in the cell, to assist the design of a treatment.

On February 24, Kym Nielson from MND Australia organised the first Motor Neurone Disease Walk in the Illawarra, which evolved from public demand following the success of the Homebush event.

The walk raised $35,990 for the cause and was attended by 318 people and 35 puppy dogs that people could register with a dog lead or bandana.

“The response on the day was amazing, absolutely incredible support from the locals and also the people from Bulli Surf Club who lost a member of their club recently to the disease,” says Nielsen.

Shelley Anne Demirov, one of the walk’s organisers, said she is planning another run from Wollongong Lighthouse to Kiama Lighthouse on June 30. Kym says 80% of the funding comes through fundraising events, which make a huge difference to support people who are living with the disease, their carers and the vital research.

“It is a devastating disease that takes away your ability to walk, run, and eventually move around. It affects the muscles that support us to do all those things and eventually takes away your life. It is a very aggressive disease and the timeframe between diagnosis and death is 27 months,” said Nielsen.

Kym says plush puppies will be sold at merchandise at Wollongong Railway Station to help mark Motor Neuron Disease Awareness Week from May 1.

Words: SARAH NAVIN
Pictures: HANNAH SHIELDS
Video: HARRISON VESEY

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