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Novel therapies for Parkinson’s disease

Innovative means of treating Parkinson’s disease by stimulating the brain are to be investigated by an academic from the University of St Andrews.

Professor Philip Winn, of the School of Psychology, has been awarded a grant from the Medical Research Council to study new therapeutic strategies for the debilitating condition.

The funding will be used to test treatments and hunt for new brain targets for deep brain stimulation, a surgical method to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a relatively common disorder with no clear cause, and which increases in incidence with aging. Patients can show many symptoms including, amongst others, tremors, difficulty in initiating movements, poor balance and gait disturbance.

Professor Winn said, “This new research is aimed at understanding the physiological mechanisms of deep brain stimulation.  It is a unique opportunity to integrate basic and clinical science.

“If we can understand the physiological mechanisms of deep brain stimulation and identify specific brain targets for the different symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, it opens the possibility of being able to match treatments to individual patients’ particular profile of symptoms.”

To obtain relief from symptoms, patients can turn on or off electrodes surgically implanted in their brains – turning them on sends pulses of electricity direct to specific brain sites.

The first aim of the research is to understand exactly what happens to brain physiology when the electrodes are switched on. This will help clinicians to develop better methods of stimulation.

The team also hopes to identify various targets in the brain where this stimulation might offer different benefits – for example, stimulation at some sites in brain might relieve tremor, while stimulation at other sites may have more effect on postural and gait problems.

Professor Winn continued, “The method is especially useful in cases of Parkinson’s disease where drug treatments are having less effect than normal.”

The work will integrate studies of patients with experimental studies in the laboratory.  Three teams will work directly with Parkinson’s patients, while two others will undertake basic laboratory science to investigate the physiological mechanisms underlying deep brain stimulation.

The research is part of a major trans-European collaboration operated through the European Research Area NEURON programme.

The three year €1.3M grant brings together a team of researchers in Germany, Italy, France and Scotland, co-ordinated by Professor Dr Jens Volkmann of Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany, one of the leading centres for the surgical treatment of Parkinsonism.

ENDS

NOTE TO EDITORS:

Professor Winn is available for interview on 01334 462588 or E-mail pw@st-andrews.ac.uk

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews
Contact Fiona Armstrong, Press Officer on 01334 462530 / 462529, Mobile: 07730 415 015 or E-mail: fa12@st-andrews.ac.uk
Ref:  Parkinson’s 03/02/09
View the latest University press releases at www.st-andrews.ac.uk

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