Our research projects
We're backing the best and brightest minds to unlock the ideas that will lead to new treatments, and one day a cure.
We support the most promising scientists working in labs and hospitals across the UK and beyond to unravel the mysteries of Parkinson’s.
It’s only by truly understanding the complex causes and how it progresses that we’ll be able to come up with strategies that can stop, reverse and prevent Parkinson’s.
Supporting scientific discoveries
As well as our Parkinson's Virtual Biotech and Critical Path for Parkinson's initiatives, we are currently funding around 50 research projects into many different aspects of Parkinson's. We carry out a rigorous evaluation process to ensure that every research project we fund is high-quality science and meets the needs of people with Parkinson's.
Our research projects exist at different stages of the research pipeline. Some are in the early scientific discovery stage, while others are already being tested in clinical trials.
You can read about some of them here, or download a full list of all our active research projects in the PDF below.
Unlocking ideas that will lead to new treatments
Today treatments for Parkinson's cannot slow the progression of the condition, and it can be hard to find the right treatment for different people. Some of our largest research projects aim to change that.
By improving our understanding of Parkinson's, researchers will be able to develop better, more personalised, treatments and unlock new ideas to target the problems happening inside brain cells.
The ambitious Tracking Parkinson's study launched in early 2012 with the aim of studying how people with the condition differ in their symptoms, respond to drug therapies and progress over time. Ultimately, understanding these differences will help us develop better and more targeted treatments that we can use in particular types of Parkinson’s.
Oxford Parkinson’s Disease Centre
The Oxford Parkinson’s Disease Centre is a unique, collaborative initiative that brings together the best scientific minds to speed up the search for better treatments and a cure. The researchers are looking at Parkinson’s from every angle – including studying stem cells and animal models of the condition – to attempt to answer some of the biggest questions facing the field.
Parkinson's UK Brain Bank
The Parkinson’s UK Brain Bank is the world’s only brain bank solely dedicated to Parkinson’s research. The team collects the brain, spinal cord and a sample of cerebrospinal fluid from people with and without the condition for vital research. These tissues are supplied free of charge to researchers studying Parkinson’s all over the world, enabling discoveries that will lead to new and better treatments.
Understanding the genetics of Parkinson's
Although it is very rare for people with Parkinson's to have a directly inherited form of the condition, research has uncovered a number of subtle genetic changes that slightly increase a person's risk.
Understanding how genetic changes affect the way cells work, and potentially contribute to the development of Parkinson's, could give us the vital insight needed to develop new and better treatments. That's why we're funding a variety of genetic research projects.
Understanding VPS35 in Parkinson’s
Researchers have recently discovered that very rare changes in a gene called VPS35 can cause Parkinson's, but we don't yet know how.
In this project, Dr Eva Kevei and her team at the University of Reading hope to use a worm model of Parkinson's to better understand how the VPS35 is linked to the loss of precious brain cells.
Targeting GBA in Parkinson’s
Changes in the GBA gene are an important risk factor for Parkinson’s and can significantly increase the risk of developing Parkinson's. Previous research has shown that these mutations lead to alpha-synuclein building up in brain cells. He also discovered that a drug called ambroxol may be able to help.
Now, Professor Anthony Schapira and his team at UCL plan to investigate whether ambroxol can slow the spread of the alpha synuclein protein in a mouse model of the condition. This information could help researchers design future clinical trials.
Understanding the Fbxo7 gene in Parkinson's
Current treatments only target the symptoms of Parkinson’s – they do not slow the loss of dopamine-producing cells. But Dr Heike from the University of Cambridge believes we now have the tools and opportunity to change this.
She has experience studying a gene that we now know plays a fundamental role in brain cell health – Fbxo7. Her research project into how this gene protects brain cells could give rise to future therapies that can slow or reverse the progression of the condition.
A blood test to measure LRRK2
Changes in the LRRK2 gene are one of the most common genetic risk factors for Parkinson's and can change the way cells behave.
Dr Esther Sammler of the University of Dundee hopes that a simple blood test may be able to directly measure the activity of the LRRK2 pathway in blood samples from those with Parkinson's. Demonstrating that the test works could aid future research to test new treatments that target this pathway.
Understanding and predicting Parkinson’s progression
Professor Huw Morris, of University College London, is interested in finding out how people’s genetic makeup may influence the progression of Parkinson's. His team will combine clinical and genetic data from several large research studies to create the largest dataset of Parkinson's progression to date.
They also aim to predict progression on an individual level, using both clinical and genetic factors.
Targeting alpha-synuclein to protect brain cells
Lewy bodies are abnormal clumps of proteins that form in the brain cells of people with Parkinson's. The protein alpha-synuclein is the main component of Lewy bodies, and is believed to play a key role in the loss of precious brain cells and the spread of Parkinson's.
Finding drugs that combat alpha-synuclein
Anle138b is a potential drug that Professor Maria Grazia Spillantini and her team at the University of Cambridge have shown reduces the ability of alpha-synuclein to form Lewy bodies in mouse models of the condition.
In this project, the team hopes to find the optimal dose of this compound, and discover more about its effects, to progress it towards clinical trials.
Repairing broken mitochondria to slow Parkinson's
In 1989, Parkinson's UK funded research demonstrated that in the brain region affected by Parkinson's, the power stations of the cells - called mitochondria - were malfunctioning. Since then, researchers have been interested in understanding how changes in mitochondria affect energy production and contribute to brain cell death.
Can we protect neurons against mitochondrial dysfunction?
Using brain tissue, brain cells grown in the lab and mice with Parkinson's-like symptoms, Dr Amy Reeve of Newcastle University is testing a range of drugs known to interact with mitochondria. This could tell her if the drugs can protect brain cells against the problems caused by faulty mitochondria
Better drug screening: finding new uses for old drugs
Dr Heather Mortiboys, from the University of Sheffield, is identifying drugs with untapped potential for Parkinson’s that are already used in other conditions. She is looking to see if they can improve the function of mitochondria and lysosomes, and therefore slow or stop the loss of brain cells.
If Heather finds strong evidence that any of these drugs have promise, she plans to take them forward to be tested in clinical trials as quickly as possible.