Site Visits

I went on a visit to Prof Chris Dobson's lab in Cambridge on Monday. They are doing some very important and promising work there. There are site visits taking place all around the country which are are very enjoyable events and very worth while going on if you are interested in what researchers are doing on our behalf.

I think it would be interesting if participants could write a brief note on their visits on this Forum so we could hear about the research which strikes people living with Parkinson's as most relevant to them especially in leading to a cure or to an improvement in symptoms. Do others agree?

So what did I get out of the Cambridge visit? They are getting some great results in looking at bits of antibodies derived from camels (yes, camels!) that can stop the protein, alpha-synuclein, from aggregating into toxic forms that are implicated in the death of the brain cells that are at the root of Parkinson's.

A couple of references for the keen: (1) The project is listed at: Is there going to be a report like those for the other listed projects? (2) Nanobodies to cure Parkinson’s disease? By Tim Guilliams, the Parkinson's UK funded PhD student doing the research: Page 8.

A Visit to Dundee

Have you ever been on a visit to any of the research groups supported by Parkinson’s UK? If not, I strongly recommend that you do.

On 1st March I visited the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit at the University of Dundee, on behalf of the Parkinson’s UK Research Support Network, together with several members of the Dundee branch. The unit is headed by Professor Dario Alessi, who was our host for the visit. His colleague, Dr Miratul Muqit, who is a clinician as well as a researcher, gave our visiting group an excellent presentation on the work of the unit, and of the PhD student, Chandana Kondapalli, who is supported by a three-year grant from Parkinson’s UK.

Studying families with inherited forms of Parkinson's has shown that changes in the PINK1 gene increase the risk of developing the condition. However, how and why this happens is unclear. Understanding how changes in the PINK1 gene make nerve cells more vulnerable will help develop new treatments that tackle the problems directly. Chandana’s project will compare cells that have either healthy or abnormal PINK1 to create a map of all the activities that PINK1 is involved in. Looking at post-mortem brain tissue from people with Parkinson's with and without PINK1 mutations will help to build a picture of why nerve cells die in Parkinson's.

We were taken on a guided tour of the laboratory, which hosts an amazing array of state-of-the-art equipment such as mass spectrometers and tissue culture facilities. My overall impression was of an enthusiastic and competent team, really dedicated to making progress in unravelling the mysteries of Parkinson’s. I came away convinced that such visits are extremely worthwhile, certainly for me and the others in the visiting group who were enthused by seeing at first hand the work of a real scientific laboratory. Equally important is the opportunity for researchers to meet real-life Parkinson’s patients and get a feeling for the impact that a successful outcome to their research could have.


[This post has been edited by the Moderator]

Thanks very much to Droflet and Kcb for starting this discussion topic and for sharing your great posts on the Parkinson's UK project visits to Cambridge and Dundee Universities.

Just so people know, Parkinson's UK has a group of volunteers called our lay grant reviewers who help us decide which project applications from researchers receive funding.

As part of their role, lay grant reviewers visit researchers in their workplace to meet the research team, find out how the project is progressing, ask questions and discuss the research.

We'd love to hear from lay grant reviewers who have been on project visits. Also, from any members, local groups or supporters who have organised their own visits to research laboratories.

As a PwP who would dearly love to visit research groups supported by PUK, or anybody else for that matter, but is prevented from doing so by (my) PD symptoms,I welcome the reports from lay grant reviewers

I visited another project yesterday. It is a project studying swallowing and exploring therapies using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. If you can imagine a giant clockwork key of the kind you see in cartoons then that is what is placed over the head of a subject to produce a magnetic impulse that stimulates the area of the brain related to the swallowing mechanism. This enables them to explore the swallowing mechanism particularly when it is impaired in PD.

The project was formally launched yesterday and the project leader, Emilia Michou PhD, says that they are still recruiting Parkinson patients, both those with and without obvious swallowing problems. But you have to be in easy reach of Salford Royal hospital, Manchester, where you have to go for the sessions. There were trial participants at the launch yesterday and they gave the impression that, besides everything else, participation is great fun! I am sure that this is in great measure due to the friendliness and enthusiasm of the research team.

But this research is very important as swallowing problems are not just inconvenient but also highly dangerous because pneumonia caused by taking material into the lungs because of defective swallowing is a major cause of death of people with Parkinson's. So I'd say volunteer if you can!

Information on the project is at Contact details: Dr Emilia Michou, Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, Tel: 0161 206 1510, Email: [email protected]

I attended Cardiff University Dept. of Life Sciences to hear Dr Riccardo Brambilla speak on his project to Counteract Dyskinesia brought on by Levodopa medication. I have to deal with this issue myself and so found it of particular interest. Whilst Dr Brambilla ‘s Italian accent made understanding an academic lecture difficult at times the crux of the matter is that he has identified the pathways in the brain which allow the dyskinesia to flourish and produced a Peptide to essentially close off the pathways and thus inhibit the dyskinesia.
He has tested this in mice which had been treated to display PD symptoms. The results are most encouraging and he is now seeking further funding from Parkinson’s UK to set up a company to produce peptides more cheaply than can presently be purchased and obtain the international patent. Using these peptides he would like to take the prototype drug through further testing to clinical trials. He estimated the time scale for this would be 3-5 years.
At the outset Dr Brambilla indicated that no other drug was available to minimise the effects of dyskinesia although later he referred to a drug presently on the market called Mantadan which is not widely used probably due to adverse side effects

Yesterday I went on a visit to Sheffield University’s wonderful (£12 million), new (opened by the Queen last November) Institute of Translational Neuroscience for a presentation given by Dr Oliver Bandmann and his colleague Dr Heather Mortiboys, who were reporting on progress on a research project which was described in the Autumn 2009 edition of “Progress” (issue 6). The research has involved taking skin cells from Parkinson’s patients who have been identified with specific changes or mutations in the parkin gene. The cells from the skin biopsies are grown in culture plates and have been used very successfully to screen around 2000 different drugs. If the drugs are found to have an effect in Parkinson’s skin cells, the researchers hope that they will also have an effect on brain cells.

The research to date, therefore, appears to be making good progress. Dr Bandmann’s group is now planning to test the most promising compounds for their effect on nerve cells in the embryos of zebrafish. The objective of this research is to discover and develop disease-modifying drugs which will slow down the progression of Parkinson’s.

The visiting group was taken to the impressively equipped laboratories where we were shown some of the cultures under the microscope, and the transparent zebrafish embryos, and some of the new, expensive hardware which has speeded up the research work.

Thank you for posting accounts of your visits. I found it most interesting.

Which group should one belong to, in order to go on these visits? Can anyone join?

If you would like to find out more about the Research Support Network you can contact them at [email protected]. or 020 7963 9376

More information on this is also available at:

Post edited. Contact details changed.

Dear JT

Thank you for your message.

The visits are mainly for local groups who have donated funds to the project and groups of lay grant reviewers. If there are spaces left, they are then opened to members of the Research Support Network.

If you would like to find out more about the Research Support Network you can contact them at [email protected]. or 020 7963 9376

More information on this is also available at:

Bone marrow stem cells, brain cell growth factors and help for Parkinson’s

Site visit to the laboratories of Dr Alan Whone, Frenchay Hospital, 27 July 2011

Project title: Developing bone marrow stem cell therapy for Parkinson’s

Alan, a clinical consultant neurologist, first described the background and rationale of his research strategies for improving control of Parkinson’s. Besides his work on deep brain stimulation, he is particularly interested in helping people with Parkinson’s by developing procedures to deal with unmet symptoms and thereby provide a better quality of life. These refer particularly to neuroprotection and neurorestoration of dopamine producing cells, and improving movement problems such as freezing gait, falls and loss of the posture reflex. Interestingly, these movement problems are associated with different parts of the brain to those involving dopamine cells (ie those involving serotonin and cholinesterase systems) and suggest that strategies for helping Parkinson’s may need to have effects on more than one brain cell type. He already has collaborative projects studying some of these approaches, involving funding from Parkinson’s UK.

However, the major reason for the visit was to describe the progress of his work on bone marrow stem cell therapy. Bone marrow stem cells have the capability to turn into new dopamine producing cells like those lost in Parkinson’s. They can also produce growth factors - natural chemicals that help cells grow and survive, can damp down inflammation, and may help stabilise damaged cells. What’s more, we all have our own supply of these cells and they can be cultured in the lab.

In a laboratory cell culture based system, Alan chemically damaged brain cells and then either introduced bone marrow stem cells or the fluid they had been grown in (containing cell growth factors released from the cells) to see if the treatments could help the brain cells survive or recover from the damage. Using a range of specific histochemical techniques (staining cells for individual chemicals such as dopamine and examining them under the microscope), his results showed:
• Bone marrow stem cells protected nerve cells from death
• The growth factor GDNF alone also protected cells
• Both dopamine producing and serotonin producing brain cells were protected
• Mitochondria (energy producing organelles) were also protected by bone marrow cells

This provided the first evidence that bone marrow stem cells and growth factors produced by these cells have potential to protect brain cells involved In Parkinson’s from toxic damage. This work has been submitted for publication in the scientific journal Brain Research.

This opens up the possibility of examining the role of other cell growth factors for similar activities, potentially by introducing the genes coding for the cell growth factors into brain cells. It also adds weight to the idea of introducing bone marrow stem cells to improve Parkinson’s. This would have to come through further research.

Subsequently, we had a tour round the laboratories and were shown the various items of equipment used for the research. Overall it was a really interesting afternoon. We were made to feel welcome (the cakes were great) and were told about the work being done in a form where we could understand the essentials without being overwhelmed by the scientific detail. A big thank you must go to Alan and his group.

I attended a preliminary report meeting regarding the research carried out by Professor Anthony David on OCD's and ICD's. Please follow this link to read it.

The report is on Page 4.

Sorry about not including that information!!