Research charity Parkinson’s UK has awarded scientists working for the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) a £750,000 grant to look for reliable biomarkers to help diagnose and monitor the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

Led by Professor Simon Lovestone, director of the NIHR Dementia Translational Research Collaboration, a team of researchers from London, Cambridge, Oxford and Newcastle will use blood samples and information collected through ‘Tracking Parkinson’s’, an in-depth study of people with Parkinson’s disease funded by Parkinson’s UK and started last year.

The Dementia Translational Research Collaboration secured the research grant, which is for three years starting in January 2014, against competition from 10 countries.

It is the first significant joint grant funding awarded to the recently-formed Collaboration, a government initiative combining the resources and expertise of NIHR Biomedical Research Centres and Units to develop improved treatments and care for patients with dementia, as well as dementia-related conditions such as Parkinson’s. 

Researchers and industry

The biomarker project led by Lovestone, who is also director of the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and Dementia Biomedical Research Unit in London, brings together established UK researchers in Parkinson’s disease, as well as leading UK and US biotechnology companies.

The Dementia Translational Research Collaboration will look Parkinson’s biomarkers in both blood and 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”, the NIHR notes.

Given the natural physical barrier between the brain and the blood system, though, a Parkinson’s blood test “may be desirable, but not possible”, it cautions.

Cerebrospinal fluid is in direct contact with the brain and may prove to be a more effective biomarker source. 

Future treatments

Finding viable biomarkers “could be essential to developing future treatments” for Parkinson’s disease, Lovestone commented.

 We’ve seen huge leaps in other conditions like some forms of cancer, where biomarkers have been identified, and a blood test for Alzheimer’s is now looking hopeful,” he added. “We need to do the same for Parkinson’s.”