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Bath geriatrician leads £2.1m trial into Parkinson’s disease at the University of Bristol

Press release issued: 24 May 2018

A UK-wide trial into Parkinson’s disease led by Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Bristol is set to go ahead, thanks to a £2.1 million grant from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

It will test whether a commonly prescribed dementia drug could prevent debilitating falls for people with the disease. Falls are a frequent complication of Parkinson’s, which affect around 60 per cent of the 127,000-people diagnosed with the condition each year.

With the degeneration of dopamine-producing nerve cells, people with Parkinson’s often have issues with unsteadiness when walking. As part of the condition, they also have lower levels of acetylcholine, a chemical which helps us to concentrate – making it extremely difficult to pay attention to walking. The combination of both often leads to patients suffering from injuries, broken bones and hospital admission.

The new three-year trial is led by Dr Emily Henderson, a Geriatrician at the Royal United Hospital in Bath and an Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Bristol. It will recruit 600 patients across 26 UK hospitals to determine whether a drug, known as a cholinesterase inhibitor (ChEi) will help people with Parkinson’s.

The trial follows on from earlier phase trials which showed that cholinesterase inhibitor treatment has potential to almost halve the number of falls and improves the regularity of walking, speed, and balance.  

Dr Henderson said: “As the population ages, the number of people living with Parkinson’s disease and the occurrence of complications will increase. There is an urgent need to identify treatments that reduce falls in Parkinson’s disease. This trial will provide definitive evidence as to the role of ChEi for falls. If successful, this treatment will improve the lives of people living with Parkinson’s now and has the potential to be tested in other groups of patients who are at high risk of falling. We are working hard to tackle one of the most disabling complications of Parkinson’s.”

Trial patients will be randomly assigned a 12-month course of either a cholinesterase inhibitor via a patch or a placebo (dummy) treatment. However, neither the researchers nor the participants will know which group they are in. Patients will be asked to record any falls that they experience in diaries that they post back each month for a year. 

Findings from the trial, funded by the NIHR Health Technology Assessment programme (HTA), will be published in a research journal.

For further information about the trial, which is due to begin in early 2019, please email:


Further information

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. The NIHR is the research arm of the NHS. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website ( 

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