News archive 2009
Parkinson's disease explored28 Apr 2009, PR 82/09
Leading experts on Parkinson’s disease explained their translational research and treatment into the disease, which affects an estimated four million patients worldwide, at the King’s College London annual Edmond J. Safra lecture. Gene discovery and deep brain stimulation were the themes explored.
King’s academic Ammar Al-Chalabi, Professor of Neurology & Complex Disease Genetics, and Dr Michael Samuel, Consultant Neurologist, Division of Critical Care & Surgery, King’s College Hospital, gave the third annual Edmond J. Safra Memorial Lecture.
Entitled Exploring cutting-edge Parkinson’s disease: research and treatment it was held yesterday evening in the Edmond J. Safra lecture theatre at the Strand Campus.
In his introduction to the event, Lord Douro, Chairman of King’s College Council, said: ‘This annual event is a valuable opportunity to share the latest progress in Parkinson’s research at the College and its partner hospitals. This year’s lecture is particularly timely, as it comes as we celebrate the recent accreditation of King’s Health Partners as one of the UK’s five Academic Health Sciences Centres. This landmark decision creates a new framework for healthcare research and delivery, one which places the rapid translation of scientific understanding into improved patient care as its highest priority.’
The lecture honours the late Mr Edmond J. Safra, philanthropist and financier, and his widow, Mrs Lily Safra FKC. Mrs Safra, a friend and Honorary Fellow of the College, has long been a dedicated supporter of King’s. Her support of Parkinson’s disease and neuroscience research at King’s College London has enabled a range of projects, from specialist nursing to laboratory sciences, and has established this lecture series at King’s.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is caused by the loss of a specific neural cell type (dopaminergic neuron) in the midbrain. These cells are responsible for producing a chemical known as dopamine, which allows messages to be sent to the parts of the brain that co-ordinate movement. With the depletion of dopamine-producing cells, these parts of the brain are unable to function normally. Three motor symptoms that define PD are tremor, slowness of movement, and stiffness of rigidity of muscles.
Breakthrough gene discovery
In his talk Professor Al-Chalabi discussed the way ‘gene-hunting’ technologies combine the efforts of clinicians, biologists, computer scientists and mathematicians into international collaborations aimed at untangling the mysteries of how genes cause such diseases.
Professor Al-Chalabi explained: ‘Our team is now undertaking a major ‘gene-hunting’ effort as part of a Europe-wide collaboration investigating ‘Parkinson’s-Plus’ diseases using samples from more than 1,200 patients as well as in Parkinson’s disease with samples from more than 2,000 people with the condition.’
In February Science published research by Professor Al-Chalabi and his colleagues at King’s into important mutations in the gene for the TDP-43 protein in motor neuron disease (MND). This is a major protein involved in neurodegenerative conditions, which is found in 10 per cent of people with PD.
Deep Brain Stimulation
Dr Michael Samuel then spoke about the stereotaxic technique for locating specific points in the brain, advances in equipment, and ‘presumed mechanism of action’, showing the effects of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) on movement and cognitive aspects of PD.
King’s College Hospital houses a leading unit for the surgical treatment of advanced Parkinson’s disease with implanted deep brain stimulator devices. Now, over 20 years since DBS was invented, long term studies have been able to show the effect of continued treatment on movement symptoms. Further, the recognition of abnormal neurophysiology obtained from operations on patients from different centres worldwide has led to an expansion of DBS usage to treat other less common movement disorders, tremors and dystonia.
Professor Robert Lechler, Vice-Principal (Heath) and Interim Director of King’s Health Partner’s, introduced the speakers by saying the talks would elegantly illustrate translational research pathways: the reason for establishing King’s Health Partners.
This theme was picked up by the Principal of King’s College London, Professor Rick Trainor, in his vote of thanks after the lecture: ‘The formation of King’s Health Partners gives us huge potential to transform the groundbreaking basic and clinical scientific discoveries in neuroscience and other medical spheres quickly into clinical treatments. This is something which promises to not only rapidly advance the care of our patients here in south London, but also for people across the globe.’
He then thanked Mrs Safra for her continued support saying that she had shown great courage and personal leadership and King’s was deeply honoured to hold the Edmond J. Safra memorial lecture. Thanks to her support along with other generous benefactors, King’s was well positioned in terms of ability and vision to lead the world in neuroscience research and clinical application.
[Image: Dr Michael Samuel (left) and Professor Al-Chalabi, by Greg Funnell]
Notes to editors
King's College London
King's College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (Times Higher Education 2008) and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has more than 21,000 students from nearly 140 countries, and more than 5,700 employees. King's is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.
King's has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of nearly £450 million.
King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe; no university has more Medical Research Council Centres.
King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King's Health Partners. King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services. For more information, visit: www.kingshealthpartners.org
Melanie Gardner, Senior Public Relations Officer
Public Relations Department, King’s College London
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