Our research achievements so far

Thanks to 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.

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. Funding a pioneering study inspired by Joy Milne who can ‘smell’ Parkinson’s.

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

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Important discoveries

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In the late 1980s, scientists studying tissue donated to the Parkinson's UK Brain Bank 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.

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Around the same time, 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.

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The study of genes has provided a vital window into understanding Parkinson’s. Scientists have found several genes that are involved in the condition. Two 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.

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Professor Roger Barker

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"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."

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Towards better treatments

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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, paving the way for the transplantation trials that are underway today. 

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If you have Parkinson’s, you need better treatments now. Not in 10 years. Not in 20 years. But there's a huge gap in drug development. In 2017, we set up the Parkinson's Virtual Biotech to fill this gap. Driven by people with Parkinson’s every step of the way. We're aiming to invest at least a further £20m in our Virtual Biotech to push forward a new, life-changing treatment for Parkinson's by the end of 2024.

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Dr Alan Whone

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"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."

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Major trials

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GDNF (or 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 investigating whether delivering GDNF directly to the brain could slow, stop or reverse Parkinson’s. The results offer hope that it may be possible to restore the cells damaged in Parkinson’s. 

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

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

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Dr Susan Duty

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

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Changing lives

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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.

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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.

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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 and it is 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.

Matt can’t remember life without Parkinson’s

Matt was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at 8 years old. He estimates he's taken over 228,000 tablets in his lifetime. His symptoms can make the simplest things difficult.

But deep brain stimulation (DBS) has helped Matt get a little bit of his everyday life back: 

"It has made a huge difference to my quality of life. Now I can turn over in bed at night and I can get up and go to the bathroom. It might not seem like much, but these things were a real struggle in the past.”