The Parkinson's Drug Trial: A Miracle Cure?
Confirmed for BBC Two on 28 February at 9pm to 10pm
Thursday 28 February
Forty-two patients undergo complex brain surgery and months of infusions via a port embedded into the side of their skull. Can this clinical trial give hope to the estimated 10 million affected by Parkinson’s globally?
In 2012, doctors from Frenchay and Southmead Hospitals in Bristol recruited volunteers to participate in a £3m trial, ending in 2017, to tackle the world’s second most common neurodegenerative condition. Forty-two volunteers living with Parkinson’s put their trust in neurosurgeon Professor Steven Gill, and the trial’s principle investigator neurologist Doctor Alan Whone, along with their team of medical experts.
“I’m giving you my body and I want you to find a cure,” says 57 year-old Kay Cotton from Cornwall, who’s had Parkinson’s for 10 years.
Other volunteers living with Parkinson’s include Bryn Williams, 42, from Glasgow who says it’s the chance to be “part of a trial that could truly shift medicine”, whilst Ron Johnson, 72, from Oxfordshire, simply wants “to be able to play football with my grandchildren”.
The drug being tested is GDNF - glial-cell derived neurotrophic factor. It’s a naturally occurring protein found in our brains, first linked to treating Parkinson’s in 1993. It was discovered in the lab that, at a high dosage, GDNF had a restorative effect on dopamine neurons. Dopamine neurons are the cells affected in Parkinson’s that lead to slowness, rigidity and tremors among other symptoms.
In this moving first episode, Professor Gill performs surgery on all of the volunteers to implant the device he’s designed that enables delivery of GDNF to a deep part of the brain.
The surgery and infusions that follow are medical firsts, offering a new way of delivering drugs to the brain. It leads to Pfizer, the world’s biggest pharmaceutical company, investing in GDNF and the Bristol delivery system part-way through the medical trial.
Forty-four year-old Tom Isaacs from Hertfordshire is one of the trial’s most severely-affected volunteers. Tom, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when he was 27, says that the diagnosis "stays with you every single second of every single day."
Pictured: Professor Steven Gill
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