Ever since James Parkinson first described the condition that bears his name, there have been suspicions that it there is a genetic component to the condition. There is often a familial pattern to the condition, where other family members (such as uncles or grandparents) are also affected. It wasn't until 1997, however, that the first genetic risk factor for Parkinson's was discovered - a tiny error in a section of DNA that made people more vulnerable to developing the condition. And over the next decade, other genetic risk factors were also identified.

The International Parkinson Disease Genomics Consortium (or IPDGC) was set up in 2009 to collect DNA from enough people with (and without) Parkinson’s to allow for researchers to be confident (that is, have sufficient statistical power) to identify all of the genetic risk factors for Parkinson’s. The group has an annual meeting and this year our deputy director of research, Simon Stott, was invited to attend the meeting.

A group of approximately 100 researchers gathered at the meeting, and shared their new data, brain stormed ideas, and discussed their plans for the next year. The new data was fascinating because the group is moving on from simply identifying genetic risk factors for developing Parkinson's, and they are now discovering genetic variations that influence the speed of Parkinson's progression. Such information will be very useful in future clinical trials, as it will insure that people genetically predisposed to a more rapid progression won't be compared to those who are not (when testing of a novel therapy).

In order to achieve their goals, the group is seeking more DNA from people with Parkinson's. They currently have genetic material from almost 40,000 people with Parkinson's (and over 1 million people without the condition). Their goal is to collect DNA from 100,000 cases of Parkinson's. Such a number would hopefully allow for the identification of genetic variations that provide protection from developing Parkinson's - knowledge which would aid in our understanding of the condition and development of novel therapies.

It was an extremely inspiring meeting, not only from the standpoint of all the data that was presented, but also from the collaborative atmosphere that was shared in the meeting. Everyone was prepared to help out, share ideas/advice and information. It was an amazing event, and one walked away from the meeting impressed by this fantastic group of individuals. They are an amazing asset for the Parkinson's community.

If you would like to get involved you can do so here:

The GBA Rapsodi Project

Fox Insight Online Study

Further reading:

The 100,000 genomes project - UK