Education and innovation take centre stage at the seventh Parkinson's Cutting Edge Science conference

Event reports
27 Mar 2024

From the future direction of diagnosis to the importance of patient-centred end-of-life care, the seventh annual Cutting Edge Science for Parkinson’s Clinicians conference covered the full gamut of managing this challenging health condition.

Held at the Macdonald Burlington Hotel in Birmingham on 19 March, the BIAL-sponsored event showcased some of the latest research and best practice to more than 150 doctors, nurses, and allied healthcare professionals from across the UK.

Opening the day, co-chair Professor Emily Henderson, associate professor in ageing and movement disorders at the University of Bristol and Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We have a really interesting and stimulating programme featuring speakers from around the world. I think that makes it a congress, rather than a meeting.”

Her fellow chair, Dr Neil Archibald, consultant neurologist and clinical director for neurology and stroke at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said there was a particular emphasis on optimising Parkinson’s detection.

“One of the challenges we face is making an early, confident diagnosis. We are living in a time of uncertainty and, despite our clinical acumen, we do not get it right every time,” he said, before introducing Professor Tanya Simuni, Arthur C Nielsen professor of neurology and division head of the Parkinson's Disease And Movement Disorders Center at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

Prof Simuri presented an emerging, novel approach to diagnosing and treating neurodegenerative diseases. Based on the neuronal α-synuclein disease integrated staging system (NSD-ISS), the approach utilises imaging, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), and serum biomarkers. While currently intended for research purposes only, it has the potential to detect prodromal Parkinson’s, enabling earlier treatment or even prevention, she explained.

“I come every year to hear the latest updates in the research. I am usually very busy in clinic and do not always have the time to keep up with everything that is going on. The talks are excellent year on year, and it is very well organised and run,”

Dr Yun Pun Chan, Birmingham, and Cutting Edge Science 2024 delegate

Next, Dr Qian Yue Tan, consultant geriatrician at Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust, discussed her research on the challenges of managing treatment burden and capacity in Parkinson's. She stressed the need to balance treatment regimens with patients' capacity to manage their health, and reiterated the importance of a patient-centred approach that considers factors including frailty, comorbidities, technology and health literacy, and caregiver burden.

Professor Ai Huey Tan, associate professor and consultant neurologist at the University of Malaya in Malaysia, explored the connection between Parkinson’s and the gut microbiome. Speaking live from Kuala Lumpur, she highlighted the role of gut dysbiosis in promoting inflammation and neuroinflammation, and suggested that “live biotherapeutics” could play a role in future treatment strategies.

“I have been in post for three years and this is my third time at the conference. It is a great way to build my background knowledge of Parkinson’s and hear about the latest research,”

Emma Williams, Parkinson’s specialist nurse, Pembrokeshire, and Cutting Edge Science 2024 delegate

While the Parkinson’s treatment landscape is evolving, it is “a little behind the curve” of other neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Alzheimer’s disease (AD) said Dr Archibald.

Dr David Nesbitt, neurology consultant at Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, discussed the latest developments in AD therapeutics, and the challenges associated with their implementation. These included identifying the right patients for the treatments, building the infrastructure needed to support their delivery and monitoring, and ensuring equitable access. Such issues, he explained, were likely to be reflected in Parkinson’s as and when disease modifying therapies (DMTs) become available.

The meeting also explored the importance of using currently available medications to their best effect.

“It is my fourth year here. I run a falls clinic where a lot of my patients are people with Parkinson’s and I like to take a holistic approach. It is interesting to hear talks about medications, as everyone has their own way to treat Parkinson’s,”

Henry Joel Aldoradin Cabeza, Peterborough, and Cutting Edge Science 2024 delegate

After of a BIAL symposium, next to take to the stage was Professor Monty Silverdale, consultant neurologist at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust – and erstwhile BBC Breakfast celebrity.

His Parkinson’s smell study, which investigated the scientific merit behind one woman’s claim to have “smelt” the disease on her husband years before he developed it, attracted worldwide media attention when it was published in 2019. Speaking to the cutting edge conference, he explained the science behind the work, which demonstrated it was possible to diagnose Parkinson’s by analysing the chemicals deposited in sebum, and the project’s potential next steps.

The job of closing the event went to Dr Elisabeth Wilson, neuropalliative care fellow at North Bristol NHS Trust. Dr Wilson, who has gone from Neurology Academy Parkinson’s MasterClass graduate to Cutting Edge Science speaker in little more than three years, spoke about place of death in Parkinson’s. She provided insights from her study on end-of-life preferences, discussed trends in place of death before, during, and after the COVID-19 pandemic, and highlighted the importance of recognising and managing symptoms in the terminal phase of Parkinson’s.

Wrapping up, Prof Henderson and Dr Archibald thanked the speakers, the delegates, the organisers, and the meeting’s sponsor, BIAL, for another fantastic Cutting Edge Science event.

Roll on next year.

A few photo's from the day:

This meeting is designed and delivered by the Parkinson’s Academy and sponsored by BIAL Pharma. The sponsor has had no input into the educational content of this meeting.

'The things you can't get from the books'

Parkinson's Academy, our original and longest running Academy, houses 22 years of inspirational projects, resources, and evidence for improving outcomes for people with Parkinson's. Led by co-founder and educational director Dr Peter Fletcher, the Academy has a truly collegiate feel and prides itself on delivering 'the things you can't get from books' - a practical learning model which inspires all Neurology Academy courses.