Lake Wyangan, image courtesy of Prof Gilles Guillemin
Lake Wyangan, image courtesy of Prof Gilles Guillemin

Lake Wyangan and Motor Neuron Disease

Professor Gilles Guillemin has been taking samples of fish and water from Lake Wyangan as part of his research into Motor Neuron Disease (MND). This research follows on from work done by Professor Dominic Rowe and Professor Gilles Guillemin on a local MND cluster in the Griffith and Wagga Wagga area. While in some cases MND is genetic and can run in families, in the vast majority of cases the cause of MND is unknown.

In 1986, one in 500 deaths in Australia was caused by MND, in 2011 it was one in 180. This dramatic increase in the number of deaths attributable to MND is the basis of Macquarie’s research into the disease. A disproportionate number of people with MND live in the NSW Riverina area, Gilles Guillemin and Dominic Rowe have been visiting the area to further investigate what might be causing this phenomenon.

It has been observed that people who live by lakes characterised by frequent algae blooms or consume contaminated food or water are at a higher risk of contracting MND. In the 1960s residents of Guam were found to have local MND cluster. This was eventually linked to the consumption of contaminated fruit bats and cycad flour. People who consume large amounts of oysters, lobsters or mussels are also known to be a higher risk candidate for MND.

Gilles sampling of cyanobacteria (blue green algae) is part of the MND Group’s research into possible environmental causes for the higher MND rates in the Riverina area. Most of the Riverina is affected by blue green algae but it is not the only possibility that the Macquarie team is investigating, they are also concomitantly looking at chemicals such as herbicides, insecticides and metals in the water.

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