Getting the full picture on Parkinson's

On Monday we launched our first ever public awareness campaign, designed to change the way people think about Parkinson's.

Here our marketing manager, Lily Dwek, explains the full story behind the campaign:

Full page article and adverts in The Metro
Since joining the charity one of the things that most struck me was just how little the general public knew about Parkinson's - something that I desperately wanted to start to change.

So, how do you get the public to change their views on Parkinson's? The answer, like the condition itself, is far from simple. To change someone's view, you need to create something that will encourage people to stop and take notice - and for that you need a good idea.

Like many good ideas, it was a chance conversation with an old friend that led to the opportunity to really put our plans for change into action. This old friend happened to work for a creative agency that was looking to help a worthy cause - and so our first public awareness campaign was born.

The campaign uses cleverly reworked images of 6 everyday activities that we all take for granted that can be incredibly difficult for those affected by Parkinson's. The images of each activity have been mixed up to create a disjointed visual puzzle that brings to life the difficulties of living with Parkinson's.

Creating a clever campaign is one thing, but if it isn't noticed then all of your work can be for nothing.

Overwhelmed by the response

Spotted on South West trains!

Although it is only a few days since we launched the campaign, I have been overwhelmed by the response. As well as seeing our adverts in the papers, the real highlight has been seeing so many people sharing their stories as a result.

Our Twitter and Facebook pages have been buzzing with hundreds of people talking about the ads and the campaign (on Twitter we're using the hashtag #myeveryday if you want to join in).

These are not only people talking about their experience of life with Parkinson's, but also those with no connection to the condition feeling compelled to comment on our work.

Although we may not be able to change the world with an advert, this campaign is certainly the first step in our mission to make life easier for people with Parkinson's.

If you spot the ads, I would love to hear what you think of them.

Parkinson's research - what to look out for in 2013

We often get asked how close we are to a cure for Parkinson's and what research is being carried out to achieve this. Dr Kieran Breen, our director of research and innovation, gives us his opinions on what he thinks are the key areas in Parkinson's research to watch out for in the future:

Dr Kieran Breen
All of the currently available Parkinson's drugs treat the symptoms rather than the condition itself. What we urgently need to develop are therapies that will slow down, halt or reverse the death of the nerve cells that happens in Parkinson's. This would, effectively, be a cure for the condition.

Research towards a cure is the primary aim of the current Parkinson's UK research strategy. Understanding how and why nerve cells die will give us vital information about how we can actually focus on treating the Parkinson's rather than the symptoms.

In addition to the research funded by Parkinson's UK, we keep very much up-to-date with other research that is carried out outside of the UK. We also speak with other funders - I had a very productive meeting last week with my counterpart at the Michael J Fox Foundation - as well as with researchers around the world.

It's vital that we all work together to achieve our goal - a cure for Parkinson's. But there is so much going on at the moment that I can only highlight a few areas that I think show particular promise.

Understanding how Parkinson's develops

We have supported a lot of research to try to understand how Parkinson's develops. By really understanding what happens within a nerve cell to cause it to die, we can identify therapies that can treat the condition itself rather than the symptoms. For example, one of the key events in Parkinson's is the development of Lewy bodies in the brain. These are specific changes that occur when a cell starts to die. Lewy bodies are then thought to spread throughout the brain as the Parkinson's progresses. So, if we could target this, we may be able to slow down the progression of nerve cell death.

Another target is a protein called synuclein which clumps together to form Lewy bodies. So this is another avenue that is being addressed to identify chemicals that may prevent Lewy bodies being formed (PDF file).

Drugs prescribed for other conditions

The development of new drugs is extremely expensive and takes a long time. But it may be possible to use drugs that are prescribed for other conditions to treat Parkinson's. Based on results from a Parkinson's UK-funded study, a small clinical trial has been carried out to look at whether the anti-diabetic drug Exenatide may help to slow down the progression of Parkinson's.

Also, a study in the US has suggested that isradipine, which is used to treat high blood pressure, may also slow down the progression of Parkinson's. But we urgently need to do more research to identify other drugs. This is very much on the Parkinson's UK agenda.

Gene therapy and stem cell therapy

There are also other approaches that we can take to develop a cure. For example, gene therapy aims to enable nerve cells to be more efficient in how they work. Some current studies are examining genes that may actually stimulate nerve cells to regrow.

And of course, in the longer term we have the potential of stem cell therapy where we can replace the cells that have died in Parkinson's with new nerve cells. This may still be a long way off, but it's amazing how much progress has been made in this area over the last couple of years.

In fact, the winners of the Nobel prize for medicine this year identified new ways in which we can generate stem cells and this could have a significant impact on the future treatment of Parkinson's.

So, what about 2013?

Well, while there are a lot of promising areas in the pipeline, realistically there is unlikely to be a cure for Parkinson's within the next 12 months, and it's not possible to give an exact timescale of when a cure will come. However, we are committed to building upon our understanding of the basic science of the condition to develop new therapies. Essentially, we will translate the research from lab to life.

This requires investment in some high risk research studies but if they pay off, there could be a very high reward. We can't afford to be 'safe' in our research funding. It is only by being brave that we can make rapid strides forward.

The advances that are being made give me a real sense of hope that, day by day, we are getting closer than ever to a cure for Parkinson's.