New device trial to examine benefits for people with Parkinson’s
Newcastle researchers linked the Newcastle BRC Dementia theme are embarking on an exciting study that will examine the use of a handheld device in improving mobility for people with Parkinson’s.
People with Parkinson’s have problems with mobility, which can cause them to fall. One reason could be because they have less acetylcholine, a chemical associated with walking, balance and memory.
Co-funded by Parkinson’s UK and Dunhill Medical Trust, the study will be led by Newcastle University and will investigate whether stimulating the nerve on a neck using a small, non-invasive, handheld device called gammaCore, will boost the amount of acetylcholine produced by their brain and improve their mobility.
Researchers include the study lead, Dr Alison Yarnall, currently an NIHR Newcastle BRC Intermediate Clinical Fellow and Professor John-Paul Taylor, Deputy Lead for the Dementia theme, funded by the Newcastle BRC. Also included are Professor Lynn Rochester, Dr Mark Baker and Research Associate, Hilmar Sigurdsson.
Dr Yarnall understands the need for treatments of this kind. As Deputy Director of the Clinical Ageing Research Unit (CARU) on Newcastle’s Campus for Ageing and Vitality, she runs her own Parkinson’s clinic and sees people with the condition who are struggling with walking and balance. She hopes that if this device is licensed for Parkinson’s, it will have a big impact on the quality of life for thousands affected. She has already seen positive results using this approach in a small-scale, single-dose study. She comments:
This is really exciting, as it could provide the evidence we need to deliver a new treatment. Unlike surgery, or a new drug that needs lengthy safety trials, the treatment is delivered via an easy-to-use, non-invasive device, which is already being used to treat epilepsy and migraines.
Having worked closely with people who live with Parkinson’s, we have an insight into their research priorities. We know for example, that a new treatment to help improve walking and balance is a top priority, and that people are keen to have something other than another drug to add to their medication routine.
The 12-week trial will begin in Spring 2021 and participants will be seen in CARU, part of the NIHR Newcastle Clinical Research Facility (CRF).
How the study will work:
- 40 people with Parkinson’s will be taking part in this trial and will be given a device to take home and place on their neck twice a day to stimulate their vagus nerve. Their movements will be monitored through an additional device worn on the body. Half the group will be given a ‘dummy device’. Neither the participants, nor the researchers conducting the tests will know who has the working device and who has the ‘dummy’, so it doesn’t affect the results.
- Participants will be assessed after 12 weeks, to see if there has been any improvement in their walking and balance.
- After a further 12 weeks – without using the device – participants will return for further tests to assess their mobility, thinking and memory. The aim is to see if any improvements have been sustained over a longer period of time, without further stimulation of the vagus nerve.
Image: Dr Alison Yarnall, courtesy of Parkinson’s UK