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Oxford receives major funding to work on Parkinson’s, a neurological condition which can leave people struggling to walk, speak and sleep.


Parkinson’s UK has awarded a further £6m to the Oxford Parkinson’s Disease Centre (OPDC), building on their initial £5m investment in 2010. 

By 2020 the team, which includes researchers from the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences (NDCN), hopes to find new drugs to slow, or even stop Parkinson’s, using a ‘brain cell bank’ they have developed to identify promising new drug targets. They also want to improve how to diagnose and monitor Parkinson’s using cutting edge technology like smartphone apps. 

In the last five years the team has developed one of the largest studies of people living with Parkinson’s anywhere in the world, leading to progress in understanding why brain cells die and in detecting early changes in patients before full symptoms occur. Working with Thames Valley patients the team have created a tool to detect early stage Parkinson's with 85% accuracy using brain imaging. 

Oxford is one of a few special places where all of the different strands of Parkinson’s research weave together - researchers in the lab are working side by side with doctors who see Parkinson’s every day in the clinic. We believe it’s the meeting of minds in this exciting environment that’s most likely to produce the breakthrough we need to find a cure.
- Dr Arthur Roach, Parkinson’s UK Director of Research and Development

developing diagnostic biomarker tests

Researchers are keen to develop an early diagnostic test to identify those with Parkinson’s disease and to intervene with therapies as early as possible. Recent studies have suggested that the aggregation of protein alpha-synuclein in peripheral nervous tissue (e.g. colon) and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) can distinguish people with Parkinson's from controls, maybe even before the onset of motor symptoms.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research has awarded funding to NDCN's Laura Parkkinen to test three novel methods on accessible biosamples to see if these can provide simple, reliable diagnostic tools for Parkinson's in its early stages.

The study will use peripheral biopsies (from colon, upper GI tract and prostate) and CSF from a large longitudinally followed OPDC cohort including early Parkinson’s patients, controls and at-risk subjects (diagnosed with REM sleep behaviour disorder or asymptomatic GBA/LRRK2 mutation carriers).The team has adapted two tissue based-techniques - paraffin embedded tissue blot and proximity ligation assay - that are more specific and sensitive than conventional immunohistochemical staining methods used to detect early, disease-associated alpha-synuclein deposition. They are also developing real-time quaking induced conversion to specifically assess the aggregation of alpha-synuclein in CSF.

With a successful biomarker, researchers will have a greater window to conduct therapeutic trials of disease modification and perhaps even a possibility to prevent the disease in those destined to develop Parkinson’s.

We are very excited because this will allow us to establish and validate three assays with promising therapeutic implications in one of the largest and best-characterised clinical Parkinson's Disease cohorts in the world.
- Laura Parkkinen

If successful, these techniques could provide simple, reliable diagnostic tools for Parkinson's Disease at the earliest stages, as well as useful ways of monitoring disease progression and the effectiveness of future neuroprotective treatments.