The subject of grey matter was on everyone's minds when three of New Zealand's top brainiacs addressed a large audience in Whangarei to kick off Parkinson's Awareness Week.

One in five New Zealanders are affected by a brain disorder, Professor Richard Faull, director of the University of Auckland Centre for Brain Research (CBR) and director of the Neurological Foundation Human Brain Bank, said.

Huntington's, Alzheimer's, dementia, multiple sclerosis and other brain disorders including strokes were touched on in yesterday's presentations by Prof Faull, Dr Malvindar Singh-Bains, a Research Fellow at the CBR who has specialised in Huntington's, and Dr Maurice Curtis, Associate Professor in Anatomy at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at Auckland University, a researcher at the CBR and a deputy director of the Brain Bank.

The first speaker, Prof Faull, showed images of an Alzheimer's brain affected by "a cascade of brain cell death" and the Parkinson's brain without the "big, fat, juicy dopamine-producing cells of a normal brain".


He told of how the Brain Bank started almost informally, beginning with brain tissues being used for pathology and research purposes to bequests of entire brains, to the university "ending up with one of the most incredible brain banks in the world".

At the time the clinical, community and research strands of neurosurgery and neuroscience were being brought together into the Centre for Brain Research to which 71 research groups currently belong.

About 200 people were at yesterday's presentation at Barge Park at the start of Parkinson's Awareness Week. This year's theme is "Connecting People, Changing Lives".

"Our ability to attract to Northland such a prestigious group of researchers is also all about the power of connections," said Peter Garelja, from Parkinson's Northland.

Research would unlock the secrets of the brain, especially as a growing percentage of an increasingly ageing society became afflicted with degenerative brain diseases, he said.

"That is why Parkinson's Northland is especially pleased to have gathered together three of this nation's leading neuroscientists to lead a two-hour community forum on Parkinson's disease and what the latest research findings reveal.

"As the theme of the week suggests, 'Connecting People, Changing Lives' lies at the very heart of increased awareness,'' Mr Garelja said.

"Awareness is contingent on knowledge. Knowledge is power, especially in trying to understand the perplexing nature of a disease such as Parkinson's - a disease with no definitive test or diagnosis, no causes and no cure."

- Read about Peter Garelja's experience with people involved with community-based support of patients and Parkinson's research, in next Saturday's 48 Hours section, Northern Advocate.