People with Parkinson’s unite to change the lives of millions

A group of pioneering medical trial participants are set to embark on a 4,200-mile fundraising challenge to support further research into potentially life changing treatments for Parkinson’s. The money raised will be split between three charities to support work in neurotrophic factors, a series of naturally occurring proteins including GDNF and C-CDNF, which can restore damaged brain cells.

Between 1st and 10th April 2021, 42 teams will each cover 100 miles in their own way – walking, running, swimming, cycling, rowing or any other form of human powered travel. Each team will represent one of the participants in the last trial involving GDNF which was the focus of a 2018 BBC documentary entitled “The Parkinson’s Drug Trial – A Miracle Cure?”. The trial showed promise but ultimately failed to meet the scientific end points to proceed and therefore ceased.

Many of the teams will be led by trial participants, joined by friends, family and other people who are living with Parkinson’s. Each team will be fundraising through sponsorship and donations, hoping to reach up to £4,200 which will be a further contribution to the overall target of £1 million the GDNF Participant Group committed to raise when they formed.

Vicki Dillon, who took part in the trial and is part of the GDNF Participant Group which is organising the challenge, said: “Ultimately, what we are looking for is a cure. I’ve experienced first-hand how neurotrophic factors can improve the quality of life for someone living with Parkinson’s and we want other people to have the same chance. We can make this possible if research into the potential is properly funded and more clinical trials can happen. Work is underway within the research community, but we need it to move faster so that new and better treatments are available for people with the condition.

“A team of people covering 100 miles in 10 days, doesn’t sound like much but Parkinson’s often affects people’s mobility, leaving them slow, stiff and rigid. For some of these people, just getting out of bed and around the house each day will be a challenge. But they are taking on a bigger challenge to give others hope for a life altering treatment.”

Parkinson’s is the world’s fastest growing neurological condition. It affects 10 million people worldwide and currently there is no cure. But there is hope. In the UK alone, Cure Parkinson’s, Funding Neuro and Parkinson’s UK invest millions each year into new potential treatments. Together the charities co-funded the GDNF trial and will share the money raised by this challenge, to dedicate to future research into neurotrophic factors.

Beyond shining a spotlight on the potential of these very special proteins and raising funds, the GDNF Participant Group is also calling on the government to ensure that they are supporting research into neurological conditions by allocating more funding into this much-needed work. They plan to hand a petition into the UK Government on 11 April, the day after the challenge ends, which is World Parkinson’s Day.

Jayne Calder, the co-ordinator of the Participant Group, explains: “Neurological conditions are on the rise, but the brain is still the part of the body that scientists have the least understanding of. If we’re going to be able to slow that rise and provide treatments for people living with these debilitating conditions, research needs to be properly funded and prioritised. 

“Charities do a great job in advancing medical research but trials cost millions, so they can’t do it alone. The government has recognised that it has a role to play in advancing research into neurodegenerative conditions through proper funding, and over the next few months we’ll be collecting thousands of signatures to remind them of this commitment and the urgency for action.”