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The University of Southampton joins a world first bid to find a cure for Parkinson’s

Published: 16 April 2012
Dr Helen Roberts
Dr Roberts will lead the research in Hampshire

Parkinson’s UK is launching the biggest in-depth research study tracking people with the neurological condition ever mounted anywhere in the world today (April 16). The charity says it is investing over £1.6 million into the research study to unlock further secrets about Parkinson’s and to boost the chances of finding a cure.

Parkinson’s UK, the leading research and support charity, (www.parkinsons.org.uk) has chosen the opening day of Parkinson’s Awareness Week to put out an urgent call for 3,000 volunteers - both recently-diagnosed people with Parkinson’s (in the last three years), those aged under the age of 50 at diagnosis, and their brothers and sisters - to take part in its ground-breaking ‘Tracking Parkinson’s’ clinical study.

The Parkinson’s UK research project will be led by Dr Donald Grosset at the University of Glasgow and will link eventually to around fifty centres around the UK.

There will be two key sites in Hampshire taking part in Tracking Parkinson’s: The University of Southampton and Romsey Hospital. Research will be led by Dr Helen Roberts, Senior Lecturer in Geriatric Medicine at the University.

She comments: “Finding a cure for Parkinson’s is what every researcher in the field dreams about. Tracking Parkinson’s is a major new research project and we are very excited to be involved right at the beginning. This study really offers hope for the future for people with Parkinson’s and we need eligible people from the Hampshire area to volunteer to help us make our vision of a cure a reality”.

‘Tracking Parkinson’s’ primary aim is to identify elusive biomarkers for Parkinson’s (signpost indicators in the blood, for example) that could help develop simple tests, like blood tests, for use as diagnostic tools. Despite the best efforts of researchers worldwide no biomarkers have yet been identified for Parkinson’s. An early diagnosis is crucial if doctors are to be able to prescribe the right drugs for people with Parkinson’s to control – and one day, hopefully, even cure - their condition.

The responses of people with Parkinson’s to treatments for distressing symptoms like tremors, movement problems, anxiety, memory lapses and digestion problems will be closely monitored for up to five years.

Dr Kieran Breen, Director of Research and Innovation at Parkinson’s UK said: “Studies like ‘Tracking Parkinson’s’ could make a huge difference and help us to ultimately find a cure. Identifying biomarkers is key and would revolutionise the diagnosis and management of Parkinson’s. Finding a cure for Parkinson’s is like building a gigantic jigsaw, but we still have a number of the pieces missing. This vital new study will help us fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge.

“We hope ‘Tracking Parkinson’s’ will also help us to identify people who have a greater ‘risk‘ of developing Parkinson’s and we can monitor them more accurately.”

News of the study comes at a time when hopes are growing at Parkinson’s UK, that we are closer than ever before to finding a cure for Parkinson’s.

A cure, in this instance, Dr Kieran Breen explained, would mean stopping the devastating symptoms of Parkinson’s – including tremors, mood changes, movement difficulties, loss of smell and speech problems - in their tracks.

Dr Donald Grosset, who is leading the ‘Tracking Parkinson’s’ study, said: “The cure for Parkinson’s is a global challenge and all the samples gathered from our thousands of volunteers will be available for analysis by researchers the world over. This, in itself, will speed up our ultimate goal – to develop a cure for Parkinson’s. I am very excited to be leading this cutting edge research collaborating with top researchers from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

To qualify as a volunteer for ‘Tracking Parkinson’s’ at one of the UK centres, people need to be under the age of 50 at diagnosis or have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s within the last three years (from the date they register for the study). Brothers or sisters of either set of participants are also invited to take part.

To find out more about how to take part in Tracking Parkinson’s call our freephone helpline 0808 800 0303, or visit www.parkinsons.org.uk/tracking for full details and links to other Parkinson’s UK funded research.

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