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People with Parkinson's in South West sought for pioneering cure trial

By Anna_Garside  |  Posted: October 16, 2013

Cure for Parkinson's being pioneered at Frenchay Hospital, Bristol

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People with Parkinson’s from across the South West are being sought to take part in a cutting-edge research trial which could help halt the condition.

A team of researchers at Frenchay Hospital, Bristol are looking for 36 people with Parkinson’s to help them to continue developing a potential major new treatment as part of a £2million project funded by Parkinson’s UK, with support from Cure Parkinson’s Trust and in association with the North Bristol NHS Trust.

Lead researchers, neurologist Dr Alan Whone, and neurosurgeon Professor Steven Gill, are investigating the potential of a promising protein called Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (GDNF).

Building on the success of an initial safety trial, this promising study will investigate whether infusing GDNF directly into the brain using a specially designed delivery port could help to improve symptoms – such as a stiffness, slowness of movement and tremor – and slow down the spread of the condition.

Professor Gill said: “One of the biggest problems facing many researchers in the past has been finding a way to get past the blood/brain barrier, which prevents materials from blood entering the brain.

“We have developed a new way to bypass this barrier, and deliver the protein directly, by infusion, to the areas of the brain where cells die in Parkinson’s. We are hopeful that this will promote restoration of the dying neurones responsible for the symptoms of the disease. The initial safety phase carried out with six patients has assessed the device and the delivery system. The safety results from that mean that we are now ready to move into the main phase of the trial”.

For the next stage of the trial we will need 36 volunteers, some of whom will receive GDNF, and some of whom will receive a placebo “dummy” treatment for comparison, to take part”.

The surgery involved in this trial is invasive and potential candidates will undergo rigorous testing and assessments. They will need to meet specific criteria regarding their suitability for surgery, for example, their current Parkinson’s treatment plan and any family history. Regular travel to Bristol during the nine months that the trial will run is essential.

Parkinson’s develops when a lack of a chemical called dopamine, causes nerve cells within the brain to die. Research studies have suggested that GDNF has the potential to encourage these cells to grow again – in effect stopping the progression of Parkinson’s.

Dr Kieran Breen, director of Research and Innovation at Parkinson’s UK, the world’s largest patient-led Parkinson’s research and support charity, said: “We believe that GDNF could have the potential to unlock a new approach for treating Parkinson’s that may be able to slow down, and ultimately stop, the progression of the condition all together.

“Currently there are very few treatments available for people with Parkinson’s, and none capable of stopping the condition from advancing. We look forward to seeing the results of this exciting trial and hope that it paves the way for a future treatment for Parkinson’s – a condition that affects over 127,000 people living in the UK.”

Parkinson's Facts

Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurological condition. The main symptoms are tremor, slowness of movement and rigidity.

Every hour, someone in the UK is told they have Parkinson’s.

Parkinsons affects 127,000 people in the UK – around one in 500 of the population.

One in 20 people are under 40 when they are diagnosed.

Drugs, therapies and occasionally surgery can help to control symptoms, but only for limited periods.

There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s and it is not clear why some people get it and others do not.

A pioneering treatment is now being trialled at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol.

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