Brussels, 11 Apr 2003
Marking world Parkinson's disease day on 11 April, the European Commission is highlighting the results of two EU funded projects aimed at improving research into the disease and the rehabilitation of sufferers.
The PARREHA (Parkinsonians rehabilitation) project is designed to help patients overcome their symptoms through visual and audio stimuli, while the EuroPa (European cooperative network for research, diagnosis and therapy of Parkinson's disease) aims to improve understanding and treatment of Parkinson's through the networking of clinical centres in various European countries.
EU Commissioner for Research, Philippe Busquin, highlighted the potential contribution of the two projects: 'EU research can help to improve the quality of life of people affected by this debilitating disorder. The creation of research networks allows the pooling of Europe's best scientists to reach real breakthroughs in finding solutions for this disease.'
Parkinson's disease currently affects over 500,000 Europeans, and the proportion of sufferers is continually growing due to the aging of the population as a whole. As well as the obvious medical problems associated with the condition, it is also one of the most costly brain disorders known, with a German study suggesting that annual therapy costs total around 6,000 euro per patient.
Parkinson's disease is a movement dysfunction. The PARREHA project, supported by 1.7 million euro under the IST section of the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) and co funded by the Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC), has developed a set of information technology tools to assist the rehabilitation of Parkinson's patients suffering mobility problems.
Audio and visual stimulation has been known to suddenly relieve sufferers of all their symptoms, a phenomenon known as 'Kinesia Paradoxa' and still not completely understood. Through the use of personalised virtual reality glasses, virtual exercise and training systems, and personalised remote consultation, the PARREHA project has developed tools that can significantly improve on the results of traditional rehabilitation methods.
Prototypes of the PARREHA system have shown impressive results in helping lethargic patients become significantly more active, and the project consortium are now aiming to market the results on a commercial basis.
The EuroPa network is an association of clinical centres from 11 countries (Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK) and was set up with 1.7 million euro in funding under the Life Quality section of FP5.
The main aim of the network is the creation of a clinical trials network using Internet technology, which will establish a central patient registry to help find patients who fit the necessary clinical profile for a particular trial. Medical information will be stored under pseudonyms to protect patient privacy, and by combining the knowledge and resources of all project partners in a database of precise medical information will speed up and improve research into Parkinson's.
After the end of the initial EU funding period, which is due to end in September 2004, the network will be transformed into a self sufficient and independent organisation. Specialists from other clinics and European countries will then be able to join the network and increase its scope and collaboration.
The Commission intends to fund more projects focussing on brain research under the Sixth Framework Programme, with conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's a high priority. Mr Busquin also announced the Commission's intention, along with the European Parliament, to organise a conference to discuss how to build a 'true European Brain Research Area'.