We've already invested over £100 million in vital research. Because of this, we're close to major breakthroughs.
We've uncovered clues to the causes, and genetic involvement in Parkinson’s. We've been part of developing new treatments and therapies. And our research is paving the way to a cure.
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.
Problems with energy production
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.
Genetics and Parkinson's
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.
"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."
Professor Roger Barker
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, paving the way for the transplantation trials that are underway today.
People with Parkinson’s urgently need new treatments. But right now, 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 life-changing new treatment for Parkinson's by the end of 2024.
"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."
Dr Alan Whone
The GDNF clinical trial
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.
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.
"Because these drugs have already been through safety testing, you can cut down probably about 5 years in the clinical trials process."
Dr Susan Duty
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.
Deep brain stimulation
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 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.