A natural compound present in grapes and red wine could be the key to finding a treatment for people with Friedreich ataxia- a condition that causes progressive disability for which there are no proven medications.
Researchers from Murdoch Children's Research Institute are currently undertaking a trial of Resveratrol, a compound found largely in the skins of red grapes, which was found to prolong the life of mice, so is taken by some currently as an anti-ageing drug.
Researchers from the Institute recently found that Resveratrol increases the protein that is deficient in Friedreich ataxia in cells and mice.
Friedreich ataxia is an inherited disease that generally has its onset in childhood. It causes progressive damage to the nervous system, resulting in those affected becoming increasingly unsteady until they require the use of a wheelchair.
The study, of 30 people, is looking to see whether this finding will translate into people with Friedreich ataxia, and increase their levels of this protein. Each person in the study is being treated for three months, with a series of tests undertaken before and at the end of the treatment period. The amount of Resveratrol taken in the study translates to the amount present in 100 - 500 bottles of red wine per person per day.
Researcher, Professor Martin Delatycki said there is a lot of research being done in Australia currently that was showing promise. "We are hopeful of finding a treatment that can slow the progression of this devastating illness," he said.
Emma knows firsthand the effects of Fredreich ataxia. She was diagnosed with Fredreich's ataxia, when she was eight years old. Karen, Emma's mother said the condition has had a major impact on their lives.
"Fredreich ataxia impacts every aspect of your life. Once Emma was diagnosed it was very difficult, but it got harder once she was wheelchair-bound, which was when she was 12. Finding a treatment for the condition would be a dream - it would be wonderful," Karen said.
Many people throughout Australia have never heard of ataxia. This week marked the celebration of the 13th annual International Ataxia Awareness day - a public awareness campaign which aims to draw attention to this group of conditions. There are roughly 4000 people in Australia who are affected by ataxia - the most common genetic form being Friedreich ataxia.