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Annual lecture highlights Parkinson's advances

targeting-parkinsonsA recent lecture at King’s brought Parkinson’s disease – the suffering it causes to millions worldwide and the science behind hopes for improved treatments – into focus at King’s.

The annual Edmond J. Safra Memorial Lecture, held this year on 19 May, brought King’s experts in the field together with leading global researchers to discuss cutting edge work. The lecture honours the memory of the late philanthropist and financier Edmond J. Safra, and focuses on the latest research into Parkinson’s and related diseases. His widow, Lily Safra FKC, has given her support to Parkinson’s related research at the College over many years, and has enabled a range of projects, from specialist nursing education to laboratory sciences as well as supporting the lecture series.

Support like this is vital because the scale of the challenge is huge. Parkinson’s disease affects over six million people worldwide. It is the second most common chronic neurological condition, increasing in frequency with age and estimated to affect 120,000 people in the UK. Current treatments are frequently inadequate, cause debilitating side effects and there remains no cure for this degenerative condition.

This year’s lecture highlighted developments in a promising area of treatment of ‘motor symptoms’ (difficulties with movement) for patients with advanced Parkinson’s. Professor Alim-Louis Benabid of the Clinatec Institute in Grenoble, a leading expert on Parkinson’s disease and a pioneer in the field of neurosurgery, gave a lecture on deep brain stimulation at the Great Hall. Deep brain stimulation uses implanted electrodes to deliver continuous high-frequency electrical stimulation to parts of the brain that control body movement. This treatment has been shown to reduce tremor, rigidity and other symptoms of Parkinson’s.

Dr Keyoumars Ashkan, Consultant Neurosurgeon at the Deep Brain Stimulation Service at King’s, adds, ‘Deep brain stimulation is the biggest recent advance in the treatment of Parkinson’s. Most importantly, it has been proven to improve the quality of life of patients, which after all matters the most.

‘There are, however, still many unknowns and research is needed to realise the maximum potential of this treatment which to our belief is still very much underutilised. We are rapidly building the critical mass of information to make landmark developments, with Parkinson’s research as the foundation stone. Our understanding of the effects of deep brain stimulation from Parkinson’s now means that deep brain stimulation is also under investigation for other conditions, like dystonia, epilepsy and depression. So, the field of research into Parkinson’s will not only help patients with Parkinson’s, but will open new doors to help sufferers of other severe brain disorders.’

Research into the prevention and treatment of Parkinson’s is an important element of the World questions|King’s answers campaign. With support through the campaign, researchers at King’s are working to improve diagnosis, speed up the production of neuro-protective treatments and directly improve the quality of patients’ lives. The critical mass of knowledge and focussed international collaboration means that hopes are high for new developments, so that effective treatment is not just a distant prospect.

‘We have learnt a great deal more about Parkinson’s over the past few years,’ says Dr Michael Samuel, Consultant Neurologist at King’s College Hospital, London. ‘For example, understanding symptoms not usually attributed to the disease and gaining a better understanding of the effect of specific drugs and surgical treatments. It’s not just a disease of tremors, stiffness and slowness, but can include symptoms of balance, mood, concentration and many others. Many of its symptoms have effective treatment, but there can be side effects. A cure is actively being sought but is sadly lacking at the moment.’

King’s College London is part of King’s Health Partners (KHP), one of only five newly-established Academic Health Sciences Centres in the UK. KHP brings together the academic strength of the College with the clinical excellence of three NHS Foundation Trusts (King’s College Hospital, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust).

The close working relationships between all four partners will encourage more collaborative work between scientists and clinicians and ensure that basic academic research can be successfully translated into effective treatments more rapidly than ever before. KHP has support from all key research and clinical areas that will progress our understanding and treatment of Parkinson’s, including world-leading centres in clinical care, imaging, genetics, and drug development. Just as crucial is the day-to-day partnership with the patient community.

Researchers now need new support to fund collaborations between different research areas to help us to develop clinical tools and treatments. With new investment in this area, King’s will herald the beginning of a whole new era in personalised treatment for patients suffering from conditions like Parkinson’s.

Many alumni, supporters, staff and students attended the Edmond J. Safra Memorial Lecture.  A selection of the photographs can be viewed on Flickr.


>> Neuroscience and Mental Health research as part of World questions|King’s answers campaign

>> New advance in brain surgery for King’s Health Partners

>> Safra Lecture 2010

>> Safra Lecture 2009 – on Deep Brain stimulation

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