Leading Parkinson’s experts and advocates from around the world gathered at Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) in Grand Rapids for 'Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease', a scientific event highlighting the latest breakthroughs in Parkinson’s research and treatment. The 6th annual symposium included talks from 19 scientific speakers, a poster session and extensive networking opportunities. See more here.

Bringing together scientists, physicians and people with Parkinson’s creates a unique and impactful forum for propelling research aimed at improving patients’ quality of life. As our population ages, the number of people with Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases is expected to increase. Symposia such as this are essential to fostering a collaborative approach to finding new and better treatments.

~ said Patrik Brundin, M.D., Ph.D., director of VARI’s Center for Neurodegenerative Science and chair of the symposium’s planning committee.

In parallel with the Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease conference, The Cure Parkinson's Trust (CPT) again joined forces with VARI to host the annual patient-focused meeting Rallying to the Challenge 2017. This event aims to amplify the voices of people with Parkinson’s and influence research, particularly in the areas of clinical trials and novel therapeutic development. It featured discussions about advocacy, brainstorming sessions and 'question and answer' opportunities with scientists, physicians and advocates. Rallying to the Challenge is organised by Parkinson’s advocates in collaboration with The Cure Parkinson’s Trust and Parkinson’s Movement, an initiative of CPT created for and run by people with Parkinson’s.

Both events explored the role of metabolism in the onset and progression of Parkinson’s and showcased efforts to find therapies that slow or stop disease progression. Drug repurposing, using drugs developed to treat one disease as a treatment for another, was also highlighted, particularly those results for the recent Bydureon clinical trial which indicate that this diabetes drug may interfere with Parkinson’s, along with the presentation of the recent survey conducted by Parkinson's Movement to determine 'Risk Perception' among those affected by Parkinson's, the outcomes of which were the foundation of the Rallying meeting. Read the detailed report of the Rallying Meeting.

344 people took part in this year's survey of 'risk perception' and the factors that influence decision-making. Responders included people with Parkinson's and their family members as well as healthcare professionals and researchers working in the field of Parkinson's. The survey used the DOSPERT risk scale* (1-7) to assess risk perceptions in 5 different categories: ethical, financial, health/safety, recreational and social situations.

Collaboration is key to moving research forward, Rallying to the Challenge gives us an opportunity to do this by providing input to the research community about issues that are important to the patient community.

said Israel Robledo, a Parkinson’s advocate and member of the Parkinson’s Movement executive council.

One of the highlights of the Rallying to the Challenge meeting was the presentation of the inaugural Tom Isaacs Award in honour of CPT’s late co-founder Tom Isaacs, who was described by VARI as “a dedicated champion for the Parkinson’s community.” Each year, a researcher is selected who embodies Tom’s ethos - a dedication to groundbreaking research, a focus on improving patient quality of life and commitment to finding a cure. CPT are delighted that this year’s award is presented to Professor Tom Foltynie. Professor Foltynie is a Consultant Neurologist and Researcher at University College London and CPT have been a huge supporter of his work. He plays an active role in recognising the importance of patient involvement in research. Professor Foltynie appeared in CPT’s BBC Lifeline Appeal film earlier this year with Parkinson’s advocates Rachael Gibson and Diane Hastings and with advocate Penny Kustow on Jeremy Vine’s BBC Radio 2 show. We are delighted Professor Foltynie is the first recipient of this commemorative award.

A question and answer session with a panel of Parkinson's experts was recorded and is now archived here on Facebook Live

You can now read VARI's round up blog of the 'Grand Challenges in Parkinson's Disease' and 'Rallying to the Challenge' meetings.

Beth Hinshaw Hall, [email protected], 616.234.5519

*The DOSPERT scale is a psychometric scale that assesses risk taking in five categories - financial, health/safety, recreational, ethical and social.