When will there be a cure for Parkinson's?
People with Parkinson's do not have enough dopamine because some nerve cells in their brain have died.
There is currently no cure for Parkinson's.
Research has helped us to develop a wide range of treatments and therapies that can help to manage the symptoms, but we desperately need better treatments that mean people can live free from the symptoms of the condition.
We've made major steps in recent years, including discovering crucial genes and advances in stem cell research which will be vital in developing better treatments and a cure.
We're dedicated to turning these advances into treatments that will improve life for people with Parkinson's as quickly as possible by working with the global research community.
What are the most promising areas of research?
There are many extremely promising areas of Parkinson's research currently, including three studies testing new treatments for Parkinson's in the UK:
We are funding a clinical trial of a potential new treatment for Parkinson's called 'GDNF' - a special protein that is naturally produced inside the brain and supports the survival of many types of brain cell – including the cells lost in Parkinson's. 36 people with Parkinson's are taking part in this groundbreaking study in Bristol, and we hope to have results to share in 2016.
Another avenue of research which is proving to be extremely promising is 'drug repurposing'. This means identifying an existing drug that is used to treat another condition which we believe may also be beneficial for people with Parkinson's. If they prove to be effective for Parkinson's they could be made available to people with the condition much more rapidly than a brand new drug which has to go through much more extensive testing. One of the most promising 'repurposed drugs' is called 'Exenatide', which is currently used to treat type 2 diabetes. A trial of Exenatide in people with Parkinson's is underway in London and we hope to have results in 2016.
Finally, there is a European wide trial testing 'cell transplants' for Parkinson's. This study is using new, healthy developing cells collected from donated human foetal tissue to replace the cells lost in Parkinson's. The hope is that this trial will show that cell transplants can repair the Parkinson's brain, and hopefully reverse the progress of the condition which would pave the way for stem cell therapies in the future. Results are expected in 2018.
What causes Parkinson's?
For the vast majority of cases, the causes of Parkinson's are unknown.
Dopamine is a chemical messenger that brain cells use to send the messages that help us to coordinate our movements.
In Parkinson's, the brain doesn't have enough dopamine because some of the cells that produce it have died.
We all lose these dopamine-producing brain cells as we get older - but it's only when around half of them are gone that the symptoms of Parkinson's start to emerge.
Although we don't understand why some people lose their dopamine-producing cells faster than others - we do know that there are things in our genetic make-up, lifestyle and environment that can make us more likely to develop Parkinson's.
Can Parkinson's be inherited?
It is extremely rare for people to pass on Parkinson's to their children, but there are some rare 'genetic' forms of Parkinson's which are directly caused by inheriting a faulty gene.
People with these purely genetic forms of Parkinson's are more likely to develop the condition before the age of 40.
We inherit our genes from our parents and they are the 'instruction manual' that helps make us who we are. They do decide some things - such as what colour our eyes are. But for most things our environment plays an important part too. So for instance, we may inherit genes that predispose us to be tall but we need a nutritious diet as well as the genes to make this happen.
The same is true in Parkinson's and researchers have identified more common changes in particular genes that slightly increase risk of Parkinson's. But even if you have one of these genes, your risk of developing the condition is still quite low.
Read more in our 'Inherited Parkinson's and genetic testing' information sheet.
Does Parkinson's UK support research involving the use of animals?
So we can improve treatments and ultimately find a cure for Parkinson’s, some of the research we fund involves the use of animals. Approximately 40% of the projects we’re currently funding involve animals.
We take the use of animals in research very seriously, as do the researchers we fund. All research is carried out in line with strict Home Office regulations.
All new medical treatments must first be tested in animals before being tested in people.
Researchers are developing new ways to use fewer animals or non-animal models, but at the moment completely replacing animals in research isn’t possible. There’s no alternative method that can reproduce the complicated working of our bodies and brains.
We subscribe to the “3 Rs” policy – to reduce, refine and replace the use of animals in research wherever possible. This means we never fund research using animals if there is another alternative.
Does Parkinson's UK support research involving the use of human embryos?
Yes. We believe that stem cells hold huge potential for helping people with Parkinson's in the future.
We support the exploration of all avenues of stem cell research within the rigorous ethical and regulatory framework in place in the UK.
Embryonic stem cells are one source of stem cells used in Parkinson's research. In the UK, human embryonic stem cells can be collected from left-over embryos produced as part of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).
This can only be done legally under strict UK guidelines from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), and only very early-stage embryos can be used in research - when they are no older than 14 days and no bigger than a grain of sand.
We're currently funding several research projects investigating the abilities of stem cells to form the type of nerve cells lost in Parkinson's.
How can I get involved in Parkinson's research?
The best way to get involved in Parkinson's research is through our Research Support Network (RSN) - an online network for people who want to help find a cure and better treatments.
Anyone can join. You don't need any scientific knowledge or research background and it's free.
We send our network regular emails about:
- the latest Parkinson's research news
- upcoming research events
- opportunities to participate in research
- opportunities to work with researchers to plan, design and shape research
We also keep an up-to-date list of Parkinson's studies in the UK that need participants which you can browse here.