Our research achievements so far

Thanks to more than 50 years of Parkinson's research, we understand more about the condition than ever before. Our research has led to major discoveries and improvements for people living with Parkinson's. But we won't stop there. Together, we can find a cure.

We’re collaborative. With your help, we’ve made research breakthroughs that have changed lives. 

We’re bold. Investing over £100m in research. Taking a stand against race inequality in research. Funding Dr Kirsty Bannister’s research into pain that could see personal pain profiles become part of NHS practice.

We’re ambitious. Funding world-first research to investigate whether cannabidiol (CBD) could treat hallucinations and delusions in people with Parkinson’s. Committing £800,000 to plan a new GDNF trial. 

Collaborative. Bold. Ambitious. It’s the only way we’ve been able to make life-changing discoveries.

Important discoveries

In the late 1980s, scientists studied brain tissue from the Parkinson's UK Brain Bank. They found evidence that nerve cells are damaged by oxidative stress in Parkinson's.

Oxidative stress is now believed to play a key role in the death of brain cells in Parkinson’s. So we're developing drugs that can reduce this stress.

Also in the 1980s, our research revealed that the brains of people with Parkinson’s also have problems with tiny energy-producing batteries called mitochondria.

Every cell in our body has mitochondria, which make energy to keep cells alive. When they stop working properly, the cells get sick and die. So we’re funding research into drugs that support these batteries and keep them working longer.

The study of genes has provided a vital window into understanding Parkinson’s. Scientists have found several genes that are involved in the condition. 2 of the most important, LRRK2 and PINK1, were discovered by our researchers.

These genes appear to be important for everyone and keep the nerve cells working smoothly. There are now new treatments being developed that directly target the problems caused by these genetic variations.

Professor Roger Barker talks about stem cells

"In the future, when people get diagnosed with Parkinson's, they could have a stem cell-derived dopamine transplant.

"You won't need to take any drugs because the dopamine cells will be doing the job the drugs are currently doing."

Towards better treatments

We've invested millions in cutting-edge stem cell research. In the early 1990s, we helped fund early cell transplantation trials in a small group of people with Parkinson’s. This paved the way for the transplantation trials that are underway today.

The Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech is revolutionising Parkinson’s drug discovery. Launched in 2017, it’s a groundbreaking global movement to deliver life-changing new treatments in years not decades. 

We carefully select the projects with the greatest potential to transform life for people with Parkinson’s. Then we invest in rapidly testing and developing them.

In the first 5 years of the Virtual Biotech we supported 10 projects, including 3 clinical trials testing treatments for hallucinations, dyskinesia (involuntary movements) and psychosis in Parkinson’s.

Researchers funded by Parkinson's UK are closing in on answers as to why Parkinson's affects everyone differently.

As this area progresses and moves from research into clinical practice, it will revolutionise the way we treat Parkinson's and test new treatments.

Dr Alan Whone speaks about the GDNF clinical trial

"In the UK, we can be rightly proud that we're at the forefront of the world in some neuroscience research. And Parkinson's UK and the Parkinson's community are vital in that effort."

Major trials

GDNF (glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor) is a special protein that is naturally produced inside the brain. It supports the survival of many types of brain cells, including the cells lost in Parkinson's.

Between 2012 and 2017, we funded a pioneering clinical trials programme looking at GDNF. The programme investigated whether delivering GDNF directly to the brain could slow, stop or reverse Parkinson’s. The results proved inconclusive but offered hope that it may be possible to restore the cells damaged in Parkinson’s. So we’re now investing in planning a possible new trial.

In 2016, results from a trial we funded showed that a commonly prescribed dementia drug could help prevent falls for people with Parkinson's and improve quality of life.

A phase 3 trial launched early in 2020. The trial is still looking for participants. If successful, this medication could become the first approved drug treatment for balance and falls.

In a world first clinical trial, researchers are testing whether cannabidiol (CBD) can treat Parkinson’s psychosis symptoms.

Dr Sagnik Bhattacharyya and Dr Latha Velayudhan at King's College London are testing whether CBD helps psychosis symptoms. They’re aiming to find out how safe the drug is, if it does have any side effects, the best way to administer the drug and the ideal dosage.

Dr Susan Duty shows us her research lab

"Because these drugs have already been through safety testing, you can cut down probably about 5 years in the clinical trials process."

Changing lives

In 1977, we supported some of the first clinical trials of the drug selegiline, a drug that makes levodopa work for longer with fewer side effects.

In 1988, we supported clinical trials of the dopamine agonist drug treatment apomorphine. Both of these drug treatments are now widely used, in combination with other therapies, to help manage Parkinson's symptoms.

Parkinson's UK collaborated with the Medical Research Council to carry out a 10-year study looking at the long-term benefits of deep brain stimulation (DBS) in over 350 people with Parkinson's.

The findings have helped make this important therapy available to more people with Parkinson's across the UK.

At present, there's no definitive test for Parkinson's. The UK Parkinson's Disease Society Brain Bank Criteria was developed by research supported by the charity in the late 1980s. It's still used by specialists around the world to diagnose the condition.

Today, we're working to improve diagnosis by investing in research to detect Parkinson's earlier.

We have funded research that demonstrates the value of Parkinson's nurses for people with the condition.

Our campaigning work has achieved good nurse coverage in many areas of the UK. However, people in some areas still have little or no access to a Parkinson's nurse. Changing this is a priority for us.