District a hotspot for Motor Neurone Disease

ALARMING TREND: Professor Dominic Rowe believes there may be a possible link between blue-green algae and Motor Neurone Disease.
ALARMING TREND: Professor Dominic Rowe believes there may be a possible link between blue-green algae and Motor Neurone Disease.

THE number of people diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in the Griffith district is believed to be more than 10 times higher than average. 

One in 40,000 people in Australia are diagnosed with MND.

Worringly, the Griffith region has at least 10 patients who are battling the disease.

Two experts in the field, Professor Dominic Rowe, and Professor Gilles Guillemin, are investigating a possible link to toxins associated with blue-green algae blooms in waterways.

The two spoke about their research while visiting Griffith on the weekend.

“What we’ve noticed is that we see lots of people from the Riverina who have MND,” Professor Rowe said.

He said it was believed MND was occurring in clusters and research was under way to try and find out what the common environmental factors were in these areas.

Professor Rowe said the number of people diagnosed with sporadic MND (not genetic) had increased by 250 per cent in the past 25 years.

He said there had to be some environmental factors that had caused the spike.

Professor Rowe said blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, produced a neurotoxic amino acid called methylamino-L-alanine, or BMAA.

“If you look at the brains of people who have died from MND, you can find BMAA, but proximity is not causality, just because you’ve found it, doesn’t mean it has caused it, so we’ve got a truckload of work to do,” Professor Rowe said.

He said it was not possible to eradicate blue-green algae, but conceded he would not drink a glass of water contaminated by cyanobacteria. Michelle Vearing, from the Motor Neurone Griffith and District Support Group, said the high number of cases in the region was alarming.

“We’ve lost about six or seven patients in the last couple of years, all locals, and every three or four months we get a new patient diagnosed,” she said.

“It is increasing rapidly and it terrifies the hell out of me.” Griffith City Councillor Pat Cox addressed a concern raised by a resident about water being drawn from Lake Wyangan for consumption.

“Over winter there are usually adequate supplies in our reservoirs to last us through winter – if there’s not then there may be some water from the lakes - but that’s not normal procedure,” Cr Cox said. She said managing the blue-green algae issue was a top priority for council.