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NIHR researchers awarded $1M to search for Parkinson’s biomarkers

Friday, December 13, 2013

Researchers from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) have secured a $1 million grant from research charity Parkinson’s U.K. to search for elusive Parkinson’s biomarkers. People with Parkinson’s have an increased risk of approximately 80% to develop dementia.

The award is to a team of researchers from London, Cambridge, Oxford and Newcastle and led by Professor Simon Lovestone, director of the NIHR Dementia Translational Research Collaboration, to enable them to search for biomarkers. This new research will use blood samples and information collected through the largest ever in-depth study of people with Parkinson’s, “Tracking Parkinson’s,” also funded by Parkinson’s U.K., which started in 2012.

Biomarkers are subtle but measurable changes in the body that could be used to help diagnose and monitor the progression of Parkinson’s. They already exist for many other conditions; body temperature is a well-known biomarker for fever, and blood pressure is used to determine the risk of stroke.

Finding a reliable biomarker is a goal for many Parkinson’s researchers, as it would transform the diagnosis and management of the condition. As there have been no significant developments in new Parkinson’s drugs for many years, it would also speed up research to find the next generation of treatments, which it is hoped would be able to slow or stop progression of the condition.

The team of researchers from NIHR, as well as U.K. and U.S. biotechnology companies, will look for biomarkers for Parkinson’s in both blood and in cerebrospinal fluid. A biomarker in blood would be hugely advantageous, as blood is easily accessible and a blood test can be repeated to obtain measures of change. However, with the natural physical barrier between the brain and the blood system, a Parkinson’s blood test may be desirable but not possible.

Cerebrospinal fluid is in direct contact with the brain and may therefore provide a more effective source of a biomarker. By looking at both blood and cerebrospinal fluid, the team hopes to maximize the chances of finding the best possible biomarker.

The NIHR Dementia Translational Research Collaboration is a government initiative that brings together NIHR Biomedical Research Centers and Units to focus their considerable resources and experience into developing improved treatments and care for patients with dementia and dementia-related conditions such as Parkinson’s. Its purpose is to pull discoveries from the country’s top basic scientific research into real benefits for patients. The NIHR Dementia Translational Research Collaboration is facilitated by the NIHR Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure (NOCRI). 

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