Launch of a National Centre of Excellence in Research on Parkinson’s disease

A new funding programme of the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) facilitates the creation of a national clinical research centre with a direct impact for patients with Parkinson’s disease. The aim of the 8-year program, which involves all national actors in biomedical research, is to identify new methods for the early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and the stratification of patients in sub-groups. One focus of the programme is a national long-term clinical Parkinson’s disease study, which will start in 2015.

First National Centre of Excellence in Research of the FNR

The Parkinson’s disease research centre is the first National Centre of Excellence in Research (NCER) of the FNR. Dr Marc Schiltz, Secretary General of the FNR explains the motivation behind this new funding initiative: “We want to support high quality research with impact and the cooperation of national research actors. Through the creation of a common research programme in a domain that is strategically important for Luxembourg, we can unite existing competencies to work efficiently on a relevant socio-economic problem.”

Hospital and research institutions working together

In light of the investments and developments in the field of personalised medicine, the FNR has identified the early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease with the help of systems biological tools as an attractive topic for a first national centre of excellence. Local medical doctors, research scientists and administrative personnel will collaborate with each other and with international partners.

The national partners are the University of Luxembourg with the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB), the IBBL (Integrated BioBank of Luxembourg) Institute, the Luxembourg Institute of Health and the Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg (CHL). Their common goal is to continue to integrate research into the national health system and to establish Luxembourg as an excellence centre in research on Parkinson’s disease beyond the country’s borders.

International partners are the Oxford Parkinson’s Disease Centre, the Hertie-Institut für klinische Hirnforschung in Tübingen, the Paracelsus-Elena-Klinik in Kassel and the National Institutes of Health in the USA.

A research programme with a direct impact for patients

What does this initiative mean for patients? Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease of the brain and it is likely that an increased number of people will suffer from it in the coming years due to the ageing of the population. A major problem with Parkinson’s disease is that it is usually diagnosed in patients when the disease has already progressed significantly. If there were methods for an earlier detection, doctors could treat patients with protective therapies and thereby increase the patients’ quality of life. Why people become ill, and whether the disease will progress fast or slowly, is also difficult to predict.

In order to understand all this better, a central objective of the Parkinson’s disease research centre is to conduct a long-term clinical study with Parkinson’s disease patients from Luxembourg and neighbouring countries as well as healthy control subjects. The main focus will be to compare the results from clinical tests and specific laboratory measurements (i.e. metabolic products or genetic information) from patients and healthy controls. This may lead to the identification of new methods for the diagnosis and stratification of the disease.

Prof. Dr. Nico Diederich, neurologist at CHL and researcher at LCSB says: „The programme also serves the patients. A detailed analysis will allow us to learn more about their disease. In addition, it also represents an opportunity for people to actively participate in research, which may help future patients. This is something one can be proud of.”

Another project carried out in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health in the USA foresees the creation of a central computing platform for the analysis of genetic data from international Parkinon’s disease studies.

International recognition for the research location Luxembourg

For Prof. Dr Rudi Balling, Director of the LCSB and coordinator of the Parkinson-NCER consortium, the programme is also an international recognition of the local research community. In particular the close collaboration between doctors, biologists and computer scientists was highlighted as unique by the panel of international experts that examined the programme proposal.

A detailed proposal was submitted to the FNR by the consortium and subsequently evaluated in two rounds by foreign scientists. In February 2015, the FNR approved the funding for the programme: 8 million Euros have been allocated for a first phase of 4 years; the total budget estimated for the 8-year programme amounts to 20 million Euros.

Further information about the clinical study will be communicated at the World Parkinson Day event of Parkinson Luxembourg a.s.b.l. on 17 April 2015 and via the website thereafter.