Parkinson's Awareness Day: Charity Launches Groundbreaking Research

The Huffington Post UK  |  By Posted: 16/04/2012 14:04 Updated: 16/04/2012 14:43

Parkinsons Awareness Day

A leading Parkinson’s disease charity has launched the biggest ever worldwide research programme into the debilitating neurological condition.

On Parkinson’s Awareness Day, Parkinson’s UK has unveiled its £1.6m investment into a study that aims to ‘unlock’ and identify the biomarkers of the disease – and find a cure.

The charity is asking for 3,000 volunteers who have been diagnosed with the disease (preferably people under 50 or those who have been diagnosed within the last three years) to step forward to take part in a series of clinical trials.

Scientists hope to identify 'biomarkers' (proteins that indicate or detect the presence of disease) in the blood of participants, which could then help to uncover biological causes of the disease.

In the UK alone, more than 127, 000 people are living with the condition. Parkinson’s affects one person in every 500 and while it’s most commonly found in those aged 50 and over, one in 20 under the age of 40 is diagnosed every year.

Dr Kieran Breen, director of Parkinson’s UK, said in a statement: “Studies like 'Tracking Parkinson’s’ could make a huge difference and help us to ultimately find a cure.

“Identifying biomarkers is key and would revolutionise the diagnosis and management of Parkinson’s. Finding a cure for Parkinson’s is like building a gigantic jigsaw, but we still have a number of the pieces missing. This vital new study will help us fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge.”

In light of Parkinson’s Awareness Month, HuffPost Lifestyle visited the new Brains: The Mind as Matter exhibition at the Wellcome Trust.

The exhibition features more than 150 objects, including real brains (donated by Parkinson’s UK), a photographic brain specimen of Albert Einstein and the actual ‘wet brains’ (in a jar) of computer inventor Charles Babbage.

Split into four fascinating sections (Measuring, Mapping, Cutting and Giving), the exhibition asks not what brains do for us, but what we have done to brains.

One highlight examines the history of cutting and treating brains. On display is a 5,000-year-old skull (dated 2,000 BCE) complete with hundreds of drilled holes, an eye-watering display of crude trephination (a steel apparatus that’s manually drilled into the brain).

The exhibition also showcases a range of modern neuro-inspired art by creatives such as Susan Aldworth (‘Hearing Voices’), Allan Beveridge (‘Me, Myself, I) and David Marron (‘Nervous Tissue Note Panel’).

Another great demo is the 'Brain Bank’ video collated by the Wellcome Trust. Every Wednesday morning at the Imperial College Tissue Bank human brains are dissected after being ‘fixed’ with a formalin-based preservative. The brains are all donated by the Multiple Sclerosis Society and Parkinson’s UK and are of deceased people who had a degenerative disease.

If your brain is taken with brains and you know your neurons and synapses from your cerebral cortex, this exhibition is well worth a look.

Marius Kwint from the Wellcome Trust, told HuffPost Lifestyle: “Brains shows how a single, fragile organ has become the object of modern society’s most profound hopes, fears and beliefs, and some of its most extreme practices and advanced technologies. The different ways in which we have treated and represented real, physical brains open up a lot of questions about our collective minds.”

Take a look at the highlights from the Brains: The Mind as Matter...

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