This year’s Parkinson’s Conference at Pennington Biomedical Research Center had a major objective: generate interest in starting a clinical trial at the center to more deeply study the neurological disease.

According to Dr. Don Ingram, conference director, the center does basic research on Parkinson’s disease, but does not have the funds to do clinical studies.

“Clinical research is very expensive,” he said.

Ingram said about $100,000 is needed to fund the pilot study, which would look into how blueberry consumption affects those with Parkinson’s.

The clinical trial would involve about 24 people who would consume blueberries for six to eight weeks.

The center is halfway there with funding after getting about $50,000 from the Wild Blueberry Association of North America, which has a research program to study blueberries. However, Ingram said it could take time before the center can get the other half.

“There is no certainty that this will happen anytime soon,” he said. “The effort is a work in progress.”

While conference participants could choose to add to the $50,000, the conference’s purpose was not to raise funds, only spread awareness about the importance of Parkinson’s disease research.

About 500 people attended the July 19 conference, where several experts spoke, including Claire Meunier, vice president of research engagement at the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

According to Meunier, the foundation has spent more than $450 million on research since its founding in 2000 and supports 450 projects around the world.

She gave an update on the foundation’s search for a drug to prevent Parkinson’s and better treatment options for its symptoms, which include tremors, rigidity, cognitive impairment and mood disorders, among others.

About 65,000 people in Louisiana have Parkinson’s, which is one of the higher rates in the country, according to information from Pennington.

But, the cause of the disease has yet to be pinpointed.

Ingram said in some cases, the disease is connected to genetic mutations, but that does not account for the majority of cases.

Another connection the disease has shown is with certain environmental factors, such as pesticide exposure and head trauma. However, Ingram said those cases are also rare.

Meunier said the foundation believes it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

“Researchers say there is a continuum with some incidences of disease more influenced by genetics, some more influenced by environment and most somewhere in between,” she said.