Parkinson’s UK awards over £1.8m to fund more vital research

New funding for projects tackling our understanding of Parkinson’s and projects exploring new drugs for the future.

Parkinson’s UK is the largest European charitable funder of Parkinson’s research. In our latest funding round, we are pleased to announce £1.83m in funding for 9 new research projects.

Why is this important?

We fund research projects that are based on the priorities of people with Parkinson’s. We work with a team of scientific experts, alongside people with lived experience of Parkinson’s, to make sure we’re funding research that will have the most impact for the Parkinson’s community, today and in the future.

We fund research that can broadly fit into 2 categories, Cure and Life. Cure projects aim to find new ways to slow, stop and understand the causes and progression of the condition. Life projects work to find ways of treating and managing specific symptoms that can be associated with Parkinson’s. All of the projects in our latest round of funding fit into the Cure category.

We also have another grant scheme for funding to projects that focus on non-drug treatments and therapies for symptoms of Parkinson’s. We are currently reviewing new applications. More details will be available towards the end of the year.

Our newly funded projects

Read a summary of our newly funded research projects below.

Investigating physical activity to slow the onset of Parkinson’s

Lead researcher: Professor Bastiaan Bloem, Radboud University Medical Centre, The Netherlands
Funding awarded: £200,866
Summary: By the time recognisable symptoms of Parkinson’s appear, over 50% of the dopamine-producing brain cells associated with the condition have already been damaged. That’s why intervening earlier, before symptoms appear, may be the key to slowing or even preventing Parkinson’s. This study aims to understand whether it’s possible to use physical activity to slow the development of Parkinson’s in people who are at high risk.

Developing new imaging techniques to study differences in the brain in Parkinson’s

Lead researcher: Dr Christian Lambert, Institute of Neurology, UCL, UK
Funding awarded: £283,132
Summary: Diagnosing Parkinson’s is difficult as it can look different for everyone. This suggests it can be caused by different things in different people. In this project, the researchers will assess 95 people with Parkinson’s for 7 years following diagnosis, and will use brain imaging (MRI) to study changes in the brain. This could help develop tools to more accurately diagnose Parkinson’s earlier and techniques to identify and understand the different causes of Parkinson’s. This is part of a wider study funded by the Medical Research Council.

This project is currently looking for people to take part in the study. Find out how you can be part of this research.

Can blood pressure medication protect some brain cells from damage?

Lead researcher: Professor Caleb Webber, Cardiff University, UK
Funding awarded: £269,122
Summary: Some genes are associated with a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s. Caleb and his team will study brain cells that have been grown in a lab and have changes in some of these genes to see if they are more vulnerable to the cell damage associated with Parkinson’s. They will also see if certain blood pressure drugs can protect these brain cells from damage.

Can reducing cell stress help protect brain cells?

Lead researcher: Professor Jonathan Lane, University of Bristol, UK
Funding awarded: £338,038
Summary: Our bodies are made up of cells that carry out a variety of important functions. When cells are put under stress they can stop working properly. This can trigger a defence mechanism causing the cells to die, which is thought to happen over time in Parkinson’s. Jonathan and his team will study human brain cells in the lab to understand how cell stress can impact their function, and whether existing drugs to reduce this stress can help protect brain cells in Parkinson’s. 

Investigating genes which could be involved in Parkinson’s

Lead researcher: Dr Kathryn Bowles, University of Edinburgh, UK
Funding awarded: £213,263
Summary: Comparing differences in genes between people with and without Parkinson’s can help identify clues linked to the development of Parkinson’s. By doing this, Kathryn and her team identified that people with Parkinson’s had much lower levels of expression of a gene called LRRC37A2 than those without the condition. Her team will look into how this gene might be involved, which could pave the way for new treatments to boost the levels of the gene.

Understanding the role of alpha-synuclein in the body

Lead researcher: Professor Tilo Kunath, University of Edinburgh, UK
Funding awarded: £160,885
Summary: The development of Parkinson’s has been closely linked to the buildup of a protein called alpha-synuclein, which can form clumps in brain cells and stop them functioning. Research to date has focused on reducing levels of alpha-synuclein in the brain. But little is known about the normal function of this protein. Tilo and his team want to find out more about the normal job of alpha-synuclein, which could help give us clues as to why it might go wrong, and how to prevent this.

Which brain cells are affected in Parkinson’s?

Lead researcher: Dr Nathan Skene, Imperial College London, UK
Funding awarded: £80,786
Summary: Parkinson’s and its symptoms differ from person to person. But we don’t know why that might be. It could be that the brain cells affected by Parkinson’s differ from person to person. Nathan and his team will look at brain tissue from the Parkinson’s UK Brain Bank and study the differences between samples. This could help build a better understanding of why some people might experience specific symptoms and not others, which might help us build a picture of how to tailor treatments in the future.

Understanding the potential of a new drug to stop build-up of alpha-synuclein

Lead researcher: Professor Maria Grazia Spillantini, University of Cambridge, UK
Funding awarded: £139,817
Summary: This research project will use a newly developed drug to try and prevent build-up of the alpha-synuclein protein, which is known to play a role in the causes of Parkinson’s. This research is being carried out in mice. If successful, the drug could be put forward for further research to be trialled as a possible new Parkinson's treatment.

Testing a new drug to protect supporting cells in the brain

Lead researcher: Dr Nataly Hastings, University of Cambridge
Funding awarded: £140,000
Summary: There are lots of different types of cells in the brain. We know that the cells that produce dopamine, a vital brain chemical, start to die in Parkinson’s. But it’s possible that other types of brain cells could also play a role in the development of the condition. Astrocytes are one type of supporting cell that could play a role in this. This project will test a new drug in mice, which is thought to protect astrocytes in the brain, meaning that they can continue supporting dopamine producing cells. If successful, this work could pave the way towards the next stage of drug testing.

Funding research for the future

Professor David Dexter, Director of Research at Parkinson’s UK, said:

"I’m delighted that Parkinson’s UK has been able to support these pioneering research projects in our latest round of funding. Thanks to the generous donations from our supporters, we’ve been able to fund an extra 3 projects compared to this time last year.

"These grants highlight the depth and breadth of the excellent research being carried out by Parkinson’s researchers, and we wish all the applicants every success with their research."