AGEING experts in the North East are helping to lead the fight against Parkinson’s disease in the biggest study ever undertaken in the world into the neurological disorder.
Academics at Newcastle University will join forces with researchers from around the UK with the aim of finding better treatments for the debilitating condition.
The charity Parkinson’s UK is investing more than £1.6m into the pioneering study in the hope it will boost the chances of one day finding a cure.
Newcastle University’s Clinical Ageing Research Unit is one of the key centres taking part in the Tracking Parkinson’s nationwide study.
David Burn, director of the university’s Institute for Ageing and Health and Professor of Movement Disorder Neurology, pictured inset, is spearheading the region’s study.
“This is a very welcome and exciting development in the research of Parkinson’s disease and we are delighted to be involved,” he said.
“To have experts from many different sites taking part is a great opportunity to harness expertise and it will add power to the findings.
“The study will help to shed light on the signs and symptoms of the condition, how to better manage it and identify those more at risk of Parkinson’s disease.
“Newcastle University and the North East has an international reputation for research into age-related conditions and this will compliment our extensive portfolio of research.”
The main aim of the project is to identify biomarkers for Parkinson’s that could help develop simple tests – such as blood tests – to diagnose the condition at an early stage.
An early diagnosis is crucial if doctors are to prescribe the right drugs for people with the illness to help them control their symptoms.
As many as 40 research centres in the UK will take part and up to 150 volunteers are being sought for the clinical study in the North East.
Participants will include patients recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, those under the age of 50 at diagnosis and their siblings.
Volunteers will be monitored for up to five years.
One man who has welcomed the ground-breaking research is process worker Michael Charters , 51, of Wallsend.
The father-of-two, who is married to Margy, 53, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of 48 and his condition has gradually deteriorated over the past three years.
“It is really important that research is done into the condition and this study is an exciting and positive development,” said Mr Charters.
“Parkinson’s affects many aspects of my life. I’ve lost my driving license because of the condition, and I find it difficult to get dressed and my walking has got worse.
“This new research is offering hope to sufferers and their families for the future, as it’s essential that work is going on to further understanding of the condition.
“It’s great that the North East is part of the study, and it shows the region is leading the way in researching Parkinson’s.”
The Tracking Parkinson’s study is being led by the University of Glasgow and the research is a step closer to finding a cure for the 127,000 people who suffer the condition in the UK.
Dr Kieran Breen, director of research and innovation at Parkinson’s UK, said that studies like Tracking Parkinson’s could make a huge difference and help to ultimately find a cure.
He said: “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 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 identify people who have a greater risk of developing Parkinson’s and we can monitor them more accurately.”
To find out more about how to take part in the study, call the freephone helpline on 0808 800 0303, or visit www.parkinsons.org.uk/tracking