Parkinson's UK in 2011

As 2011 draws to a close, it's a good time to reflect on the successes from the year and look forward to 2012 - the year of the London Olympics, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and, of course, Parkinson's Awareness Week 2012.

Not only did we win a prestigious Charity of the Year award at the Charity Times Awards in October, but it's been a great year for our fundraisers.

Our London Marathon team raised more than £326,000 - the highest ever amount raised for the charity from this event.

An intrepid team of cyclists travelled across Cuba to raise £40,000 for us, and our London to Paris bikers (including Josie, pictured right) raised over £13,500 from their trip across the Channel.

Parkinson's research continued to hit the headlines and our research team commented in the media on topics including gene therapy, stem cells, exercise and Parkinson's medication. We've also funded 26 research projects, worth over £4million, and our new Research Support Network now has more than 500 members.

2011 has seen our helpline answer more than 21,000 calls from people affected by Parkinson's and the launch of our peer support service - where trained volunteers share their personal experiences and understanding with others over the phone. The service has already had great feedback from users.

From the rallies and marches of the Hardest Hit campaign (thanks to Roy, pictured left, and many others), to delivering your messages to the Prime Minister in a Christmas card, we have been making a stand against cuts to disability benefits.

And we've been working hard to keep Parkinson's at the top of the Government's agenda throughout 2011. By speaking to leading decision-makers, we made sure politicians were listening to the voices of people affected by Parkinson's.

There are now 310 Parkinson's nurses in the UK, providing vital support and expertise for people affected by Parkinson's. Thanks to continued campaigning, this is up from 289 in 2009 and means 6,300 more people now have access to a nurse.

These are just a few of the highlights from a really successful year for the charity. But we couldn't make any of this happen with the dedicated support of our volunteers, supporters and staff.

More than 1,900 new members have joined us in the past year, and we now have around 6,000 followers on both Facebook and Twitter. But we want even more people to join us in 2012.

Tell us your highlights from 2011 or ideas for 2012. Add them below or email

We wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Setback for gene therapy

Reuters has reported the results of a clinical trial of the drug ProSavin, which is manufactured by the biotechnology company Oxford Biomedica. While there was some improvement in the people with Parkinson's who were administered the drug, this was small. And it was difficult to assess the result as there was no control group who would have been given a placebo.

ProSavin is actually a gene therapy product. Essentially, a gene is inserted into nerve cells in the area of the brain that is affected by Parkinson's. These are cells that are still alive, although a lot of the surrounding nerve cells have already died. The gene that is put into the nerve cells helps them to work more efficiently.

The outcomes of gene therapy trials have been mixed. The results of a US gene therapy trial published earlier in 2011 reported a benefit for people who were treated.

However, another trial last year showed some small benefits but these were no better than existing treatments (PDF file).

We have no doubt that gene therapy remains a viable option for the treatment of Parkinson's in the future. And it can be difficult to directly compare the different trials as they all used specific genes which are given for diverse time periods.

But in the longer term, the success or failure of the trials will help to tell us which genes may be best to use. Then we can concentrate on how best to give them so that they will have the maximum benefit.

New government plans to bring research into the NHS

This week, in his first keynote speech on science, David Cameron announced the Government's plans to stimulate health research by harnessing NHS patients and data.

Integrating research into the healthcare system aims to 'make every NHS patient a research patient' and attract commercial investment in UK science. This could provide huge opportunities to people with Parkinson's and researchers alike.

The Government has proposed 2 key changes:

1. Faster access to new treatments

Under the new plans, patients may no longer have to wait until a drug has been through the entire clinical trial process, which can take 20 years, to access new treatments.

This is good news for people with Parkinson's as it could mean that treatments become available sooner, and also for the pharmaceutical industry as it should make clinical research easier, faster and more efficient.

2. Opening up patient data

Another proposed change would allow information from patients' medical records to be shared anonymously with researchers and drug companies.

Clearly it's vital that access to patient data is very strictly controlled and that people who wish to can opt out. But sharing patient data in a responsible way offers huge opportunities for research into Parkinson's and other conditions.

We're excited to see the Government putting research at the heart of the NHS. And the steps they suggest could bring new and better treatments for Parkinson's to the people who need them much more quickly.

What do you think about the proposed changes?