PD is a worldwide problem with a particularly high incidence in China and Europe. As a result, research is being conducted in many countries to learn more about it, better ways of diagnosis, more effective treatments, and hopefully a cure. For many years the search has been on to identify biomarkers, early reliable signs of the disease, which will enable treatments to be developed to prevent or slow down the progression of the disease. Current research includes investigating the roles of iron and copper, the presence of a common protein alpha-synuclein in the spinal fluid and colon, the role of the LRRK2 protein in inherited PD, and studies of the impact, if any, of over 1100 other proteins found in the blood. Another focus of research is the possibility of using embryonic stem cells to make dopamine-producing neurons that could alleviate the symptoms of PD.
In 2019 positive but inconclusive results were published of a clinical trial which involved treating participants with a special protein, GDNF (Glial Cell-Line Derived Neurotrophic Factor), which is naturally produced inside the brain and supports the survival of many types of brain cell including cells lost due to PD. Following widespread consultations and the acquisitions of existing patents, rights and data Parkinson’s UK has made an £800,000 investment in setting up a company, Vivifi Biotech, which is carrying out further research into the possibility of treating PD with GDNF. If the preparatory work is successful a new clinical trial could begin in 2022.
Research at Derby and Nottingham
In 2008 the Derby Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and University of Nottingham PD team were awarded ‘Centre of Excellence’ status by the US-based National Parkinson Foundation in recognition of their research strengths and clinical expertise. At Derby the team is led by Dr Rob Skelly, Regional lead (East Midlands) for the Parkinson’s Excellence Network and Honorary Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham. In 2019 the team received an award from Parkinson’s UK towards the cost of integrating its physical and mental services for people with PD.
At Nottingham substantial funding for research has been provided by the Medical Research Council, Parkinson’s UK, The Michael J. Fox Foundation and other organisations. Ancillary funding has been contributed by the NSG@QMC towards the costs of studentships, supplies and other items. Examples of the work undertaken are:-
- Dr Stefan Schwarz, Professor Dorothee Auer et al in collaboration with Dr Nin Bajaj and Professor Penny Gowland discovered the “swallow’s tail test” for diagnosing PD in 2014. As a result of further research and findings elsewhere it is now generally accepted that the test has an accuracy rate of over 90% in diagnosing PD and dementia with Lewy bodies. A secondary finding is that the pigmentation of dopamine-producing cells in the brainstem is an indication of the severity of PD.
- Professor Dorothee Auer: “Developing better brain scans for Parkinson’s” – part of one of the largest ever in-depth UK studies of PD funded by Parkinson’s UK
- Dr Robert Skelly is investigating the benefits of physiotherapy at different stages of PD from 2019 to 2023
- Our PD Projects page gives details of past and current research the NSG has helped to fund and support