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BSc Neuroscience News and Events

Cork Parkinson's Association collaborates with UCC Parkinson's Research team

27 Oct 2022
Mr Tony Wilkinson Chairperson Cork Parkinson's Association with Professor Aideen Sullivan, Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience UCC

Mr Tony Wilkinson, Chair of the Cork Parkinson’s Association, and Professor Aideen Sullivan, Head of the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, met recently in UCC as a follow-up to the launch in September at the National Ploughing Championships of the collaborative research project to investigate the possible link between Parkinson’s and pesticide exposure on Irish farms. 

The research project began initially as an idea by Tony Wilkinson Chair of the Cork Parkinson’s Association. Living in West Cork, Tony became intrigued by the number of people from rural communities in the Cork Parkinson’s Association and he began his own research into the literature, finding that a link between Parkinson's and pesticide use has been well established in other countries.

Large studies conducted in the United States highlight that individuals with Parkinson's are twice as likely to report exposure to pesticides in their lifetime. Other global studies found that individuals exposed to pesticides had a 70% higher rate of Parkinson's. In France, a study found that vineyards with high pesticide use overlapped with the highest rates of Parkinson's.

Research student Rebekah Bevans with Dr Lucy Collins Stack, Professor Aideen Sullivan and research student Fionnuala Wilson 

With a career in the British Army, British Airways, and as a manager in the rollout the fibre optic infrastructure in Britain, Tony was well equipped to find a willing and professional team to investigate his observations. Tony was very familiar with Professor Sullivan’s active research group which focuses on novel approaches to the treatment of Parkinson's disease, and due to previous successful collaborative research projects focused on exercise and the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on people with Parkinson’s. Tony approached Professor Sullivan in March this year with a proposal to collaborate on the development of a research study to investigate the possible link between Parkinson’s and pesticide exposure on Irish farms.

Professor Aideen Sullivan is well known in the Parkinson’s community, and visits Parkinson’s support groups throughout Ireland, speaking to patients and their carers, clinicians and nurses, about recent advances in Parkinson’s research. She has organised several conferences in the areas of Parkinson’s disease and Neuroscience research. Recent examples include the very successful ‘BRAINTALK’ conference and art exhibition in the Glucksman Art Gallery in 2015, which had over 200 attendees and aimed to bridge gaps between the public, clinicians and scientists within the Parkinson’s community, through exchange of knowledge and experiences. She was also on the organising committee for ‘Brain Connections’ in 2018, when experts from the Cork Neuroscience Centre gathered to raise awareness of research on Dementia, Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's disease.

Professor Sullivan was very supportive of Mr Tony Wilkinson’s proposal and she brought together a research team to work on Tony’s proposed topic, with Dr Lucy Collins Stack as the lead researcher on the project.

Dr Lucy Collins Stack and Professor Aideen Sullivan successfully developed a research plan and launched a survey at the National Ploughing Championships in September 2022. The team is delighted with the response from the public, and interest from the media and the public has been immense. Dr Lucy Collins Stack and Professor Aideen Sullivan have spoken about the study on seven radio stations, both national and local, including the Claire Byrne show on RTÉ Radio 1.

Newspaper articles detailing the study have been published in national and local newspapers. Specialist publications of interest to the farming community, including the Farmers Journal, Dairygold Co-op ‘Milk Matters’ newsletter, and the newsletter of the Irish Grain Growers Association, have also featured the survey.

Dr Lucy Collins Stack and Professor Aideen Sullivan welcome Mr Ted Horgan, Emeritus Chair of Cork Parkinson's Association, to the Parkinson's and Pesticides’ stand at the National Ploughing Championships in September.

Tony Wilkinson describes Cork Parkinson's Association as a dynamic and forward-looking organisation representing people living with Parkinson’s in County Cork, and which always welcomes new members. He said that ‘joining Cork Parkinson’s Association is a great way to connect with like-minded people living with Parkinson’s in county Cork’ and ‘as a team we can achieve more'. Tony Wilkinson took over as Chair in 2020 following the remarkable and inspirational leadership of Ted Horgan, who is now Emeritus Chair of Cork Parkinson's Association.

Cork Parkinson’s Association is a branch of Parkinson’s Association Ireland (PAI) 

The ultimate ambition of Cork Parkinson's Association is to drive better care, treatments and quality of life for everyone affected by Parkinson’s, by developing a network of local support groups and campaigning for community-based Parkinson’s nurses. Known affectionately as the ‘Rebels with a Cause’, members of Cork Parkinson’s Association work together as a group to ensure that nobody has to face Parkinson’s alone. They are a very active organisation and have a number of local groups throughout the county involved in activities such as set dancing classes, choirs, fitness classes, coffee mornings, walking groups and even weekly virtual Cork Connect meeting where specialist speakers discuss various aspects of living with Parkinson’s and other useful topics.

The research collaboration with Professor Sullivan’s group in UCC, instigated by Tony Wilkinson, investigating the possible link between Parkinson’s disease and pesticide exposure on Irish farms, sits well with the aims of this dynamic team and Tony is very proud to see it successfully launched.

The survey is still open online, and the research team plans to continue to recruit over the coming months, both online and at local ploughing events. Results will be published and disseminated next summer.


Download the survey flyer here: Flyer PD Survey 2022

Perhaps you would also like to take part in the study?

if so please link here to the survey or scan the QR barcode below.


 Newspaper and media coverage 

For more on this story contact:

News story, Parkinson's pesticide graphics and photographs Bereniece Riedewald

Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience

Anatamaíocht agus Néareolaíocht

Room 2.33, 2nd Floor, Western Gateway Building, University College, Cork, Ireland