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  1. ITV Report

'I actually forgot what it was like to have Parkinson's': Pioneering clinical trial for treatment of Parkinson's disease

The experimental treatment goes straight to the brain in the hope of restoring cells. Credit: PA

A pioneering clinical trial involving experimental treatments straight to the brain could restore cells damaged by Parkinson's disease. In Wales, nearly 8000 people have the condition.

One woman from the Rhondda Valley who took part in the trial said she: "forgot what it felt like to have Parkinson's".

Credit: PA

The multimillion pound trial aimed to investigate whether boosting the levels of a naturally-occurring protein, Glial Cell Line Derived Neurotrophic Factor (GDNF) can regenerate dying brain cells in people with Parkinson's.

It was hoped regenerating the cells could reverse the patient's condition - something that no existing treatment can do.

Sharon Martin from the Rhondda Valley has Parkinson's disease, she said taking part in the trial was a way of "changing things for the better for people living with Parkinson's".

It was important to me to take part in this clinical trial around Parkinson's because I want to be a part of changing things for the better for people living with Parkinson's, to contribute to changing people's futures. During the trial I noticed an improvement in my tremor and stiffness, some days I actually forgot what it was like to have Parkinson's. The best part was absolutely being part of something that was exploring ways to potentially change and improve so many lives, not just my own.

– Sharon Martin

To deliver GDNF to the brain cells that needed restoring, participants underwent robot-assisted surgery. Four tubes were carefully placed into their brains, allowing the protein to be infused directly to the affected areas with pinpoint accuracy.

Robotically assisted surgery room. Credit: PA

Following the procedure, brain scans of the participants revealed extremely promising effects on damaged brain cells.

The group who had received the GDNF protein showed an improvement of 100% in a key area of the brain affected in the condition. Researchers say the findings offer hope that the treatment could reawaken and restore damaged brain cells.

While the results are not clear-cut, the study has still been a resounding success. It has advanced our understanding of the potential effects of GDNF on damaged brain cells, shown that delivering a therapy in this way is feasible and that it is possible to deliver drugs with precision to the brain.

– Dr Arthur Roach, Director of Research at Parkinson's UK

Wales Director for Parkinson's UK, Ana Palazon, said Sharon's account of being involved in the trial was "inspiring".

"It's inspiring to hear her positivity about being part of a clinical trial and her desire to be part of finding ways of improving the lives of everyone living with Parkinson's".

She added: "Clearly this remains an important area for continued research and development".