3,000 volunteers needed in Parkinson's study

PHOTO: 3,000 volunteers needed in Parkinson's study

More than 3,000 volunteers are needed in a groundbreaking clinical study on Parkinson's disease.

It was announced on BBC radio recently that the world's biggest study into the cause of Parkinson's disease will take place soon. It will be headed by Dr Donald Grosset, a neurologist at Glasgow University in Scotland.

According to the BBC report, Parkinson's disease affects almost 130,000 people in Britain. Parkinson's disease is a debilitating condition. Its symptoms include tremors, mood changes, difficulties in movement, loss of smell and speech problems.

Dr Grosset hopes the milestone research will be able to find better ways of diagnosing and treating the disease. Parkinson's UK is investing more than £1.6mil (RM8mil) in the Tracking Parkinson's study with the long-term aim of boosting the chances of finding a cure.

The 3,000 volunteers include those who have been recently diagnosed with the disease, those who were aged under 50 at diagnosis, and their siblings.

The purpose of the research is to identify markers in the blood which could be used to create a simple diagnostic test for the disease, something which currently does not exist.

Parkinson's medical experts say early diagnosis is crucial for doctors to be able to prescribe the right drugs for people with the condition.

The BBC adds that the responses to various treatments of those taking part in the study will be closely monitored for up to five years.

The project will eventually be linked up to 40 research centres across Britain. Dr Grosset says the cure for Parkinson's disease is a global challenge.

"All the samples gathered from our thousands of volunteers will be available for analysis by researchers the world over," he adds.

Apart from Dr Grosset, this study will also involve top researchers from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"Finding a cure for Parkinson's is like building a gigantic jigsaw, but we still have a number of missing pieces," says another Parkinson's expert Dr Kieran Breen, director of research and innovation at Parkinson's UK.

Meanwhile, a report from the Voice of America (VOA) warned that dementia cases are poised to triple by the year 2050, from nearly 36 million to more than 115 million.

The VOA, quoting a report from the World Health Organisation and Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI), pointed out that dementia will be a major problem for people in all countries, with more than half living in low and middle-income countries.

ADI executive director Marc Wortmann says the statistics are frightening. Now there is a new case of dementia every four seconds.

Ten years ago, it was one new case in every seven seconds. Dementia is a brain disorder caused by a variety of brain illnesses that affect memory, thinking and the ability to perform everyday activities.

"If you look into future projections, it may be close to one in every second by the year 2050. So we need to act. We need to do something to stop this epidemic," added Wortmann.

According to experts, dementia is increasing because people are living longer.

Time bomb

However, the disease is not a normal part of growing old. Most older people do not have this condition.

WHO Mental Health and Substance Abuse director Shekhar Saxena says dementia is often not recognised as it is commonly mistaken for an age-related decline in functioning because it can mimic age-related problems.

It also progresses slowly and is not easily diagnosed.

Professor of Epidemiological Psychiatry at Kings College London, Martin Prince, says dementia is not yet a huge problem in developing countries because few people live more than 75 years. This is expected to change with population growth and improved health.

WHO reports more than US$600bil (RM1,800bil) a year is spent in treating and caring for people with dementia and that figure is expected to rise astronomically.

Health officials call dementia a ticking time bomb. But only eight countries have dementia strategies in place.

The report recommends that nations set up programmes that focus on improving early diagnosis, raising public awareness about the disease and reducing stigma, as well as providing better care and more support to caregivers.

There is no cure for dementia, but health officials say a great deal can be done to support and improve the lives of people with dementia, their families and caregivers.