In the Barker / Williams-Gray lab, at the John van Geest Centre for Brain Repair, we are researching the neurodegenerative diseases Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.
We run both clinical and laboratory-based research focused on determining what causes these diseases and how we can improve the lives of patients living with them.
Huntington’s disease (HD) is an inherited disorder that is caused by an abnormal gene. The faulty gene leads to the production of a mutant form of a protein called huntingtin which over time accumulates in nerve cells and causes them to become unwell and then die off. The resulting features are the development of abnormal involuntary movements (typically chorea or dance like movements), a change in personality, thinking problems and in some patients difficulties with mood, weight and sleeping. We have some drugs that can help with some of these aspects of HD but we currently have no agents that can slow down or stop the condition from developing. Our clinical studies in HD concentrate on better defining what goes wrong in patients (especially around complex forms of thinking and planning) and why patients may present in different ways and progress differently. We are also very active in trying new treatments to help patients with HD including trials sponsored by drug companies (such as the Roche ASO trial in HD) as well as trials that we have set up based on our work in the lab. We run the regional NHS clinic for HD, where we see a range of individuals from those who carry the gene but have no features of HD, through to patients with advanced disease.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a common neurological disorder causing problems with slowness, rigidity of movement, and tremor. It also causes a wide-range of ‘non-motor’ symptoms including problems with memory and thinking, mood, sleep, gastrointestinal and bladder symptoms. The movement problems are largely due to a loss of dopamine-producing brain cells in the substantia nigra, and can be treated with drugs which replace dopamine. However other symptoms can be much more difficult to treat, and we have no therapies as yet to prevent cell loss and slow down the underlying progression of the disease. Our clinical studies in large groups of patients have established that PD is highly variable from person-to-person in terms of symptoms and rate of progression. A major focus of our research is trying to better describe this variability and understand the biological reasons for it. Our ultimate goal is to develop new treatment strategies which are targeted to particular subgroups of patients.
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