A potential link between Parkinson’s Disease and pesticide exposure on Irish farms is being investigated by a team at University College Cork (UCC) in conjunction with Cork Parkinson’s Association, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) and Teagasc.

“Parkinson’s disease (PD) is one of the most common neurodegenerative disorders, with both genetic and environmental risk factors,” said Dr. Lucy Collins Stack of the Parkinson’s Disease Research Cluster (PDRC) in UCC.

“Pesticide exposure has been an important link in understanding causality of PD.

“In the laboratory settings ‘organic’ pesticides, such as rotenone, can mimic cell loss and symptoms of PD in models of the illness. While pesticide models of PD are applicable and useful in the laboratory setting, it is impossible to fully understand many aspects of human chemical exposure, such as route of entry, or prolonged exposure over many decades,” she said.

“Therefore, it is important to investigate potential toxicity of pesticides in humans. To date, there is no data on exposure to pesticides and risk of PD in Ireland.

“Information about pesticides risk in the farming communities in Ireland needs to be gathered and analysed, due to the growing number of individuals presenting with PD before the age of 60 in Ireland and worldwide. Experts in the field are likening this to a Parkinson’s pandemic.

The PDRC research hub in UCC, including Prof. Aideen Sullivan and Prof. Suzanne Timmons, in collaboration with the Cork Parkinson’s Association (CPA), the IFA and Teagasc, is now keen to investigate how the use of pesticides may be linked to individuals with PD, as well as their families, with a view to gathering information on the genetic-environmental risks of PD nationally in Ireland.

“The project is currently under ethical review in UCC and we aim to start recruiting over the summer months to this project, as well as representing our study at the National Ploughing Championships in September,” said Dr. Collins Stack.