Millionaire leaves millions for research into motor neuron disease

A self-made millionaire Peter Goodenough who died from motor neuron disease (MND) left more than $6 million to the University's Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) to help find a cure for MND.

MND is a group of disorders which causes progressive muscle wasting and the loss of nerve cells that control speech, swallowing and respiration.

Symptoms usually appear between the ages of 50-70, and include progressive weakness and muscle wasting and most cases progress quite quickly over the course of months.

MND is usually fatal within 2-5 years and around 50% of victims die within 14 months of diagnosis.

One in 10 patients will survive for 10 years and Professor Stephen Hawking is a well-known example of a person with MND, and has lived for more than 40 years with the disease.

While there is currently no cure for MND the drug riluzole affects the course of the disease by blocking the effects of the neurotransmitter glutamate, and is thought to extend the lifespan of a patient by a few months but there is a lack of effective medications which slow the progression of the disease.

Treatment therefore focuses on the relief of symptoms associated with the disease involving neurologists, speech pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, dieticians, respiratory therapists, social workers, palliative care specialists, specialist nurses and psychologists.

Desley Boyle the Minister for Tourism, Regional Development and Industry officially opened the Peter Goodenough and Wantoks Research Laboratory at QBI.

'Wantoks' which means close friends or relatives in pidgin English is a reference to Mr Goodenough's three pet dogs and ‘best mates' whom he wanted acknowledged.

The lab was completed in November 2007 and is now home to the Molecular Genetics of Human Disease team led by QBI's Dr. Robyn Wallace.

Dr. Wallace is currently researching biomarkers and genes associated with muscle weakness while QBI's Nerve Cell Survival Lab has discovered new molecules that promote nerve survival and prevent motor neuron loss.

Dr. Wallace says she believes it will be at least a decade before there is a MND treatment.

Three fully-funded scholarships for Papua New Guinean students studying engineering, law and neuroscience were also announced in Mr Goodenough's honour.

Mr Goodenough who was born in Cornwall, England, died aged 69 on November 14, 2004 in the Cairns Base Hospital; he had developed a multi-million dollar civil engineering contracting company with extensive interests in Papua New Guinea.

Mr Goodenough battled with MND for three years before the disease left him wheelchair-bound and unable to speak for the final year of his life - he wanted to use his money to ensure others did not suffer as he had.

Mr Goodenough was a reclusive character with strong morals who showed no interest in personal wealth such as expensive clothes or cars and is survived by five children, most of whom, still live in Cornwall.

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