Mental wellbeing

Parkinson's Awareness Week (20-26 April)

A brain, yesterday Shortage of brain donors hinders search for Parkinson's cure

A nationwide appeal for people to donate their brains to research and help discover a cure for Parkinson's disease is launched today by the Parkinson's Disease Society (PDS).

One in 500 people is affected by the condition and the shortage of brain donors is hindering scientists in finding a cure.

Jane Asher, President of the Parkinson's Disease Society, Jeremy Paxman and John Stapleton are among a number of well known supporters who, during Parkinson's Awareness Week 2009 (20-26 April), are pledging to donate their brains for research into the condition.

The PDS is calling on people with and without Parkinson's to sign up to the Parkinson's Brain Donor Register and help scientists progress closer to a cure.

Research using donated brain tissue has already led to major medical breakthroughs in the treatment and understanding of Parkinson's, including the development of anti-Parkinson's drugs, such as levodopa, which has revolutionised the way symptoms of the condition are controlled.

However, only 1,000 people across the UK have currently signed up to the Parkinson's Brain Donor Register and pledged to donate their brains. The PDS wants to double this number to 2,000 by the end of 2009.

According to new research from YouGov commissioned by the PDS, it's clear that the general public has misconceptions about brain donation. Over a quarter of people (27%) haven't thought about brain donation. Yet, over 60% are comfortable donating a heart (63%) or kidney (65%). Only 7% of adults in Great Britain are comfortable with the idea of brain donation.

More than a quarter (26%) of people are worried about causing distress to their family. However Michael Grycuk, whose mother Joan had Parkinson's and donated her brain to the Parkinson's Brain Donor Register, said:

"I knew it was something my mother wanted to do. As a result of her generosity and that of many like her, she's provided hope of finding a cure for millions of people around the world currently living with Parkinson's.

"I think it is very important that people become brain donors – like my mother. I will be donating my brain and I will be encouraging other family members and friends to do the same."

The survey also revealed one in three people (29%) know someone affected by Parkinson's.

Jane Asher, whose brother-in-law has been diagnosed with Parkinson's, said:

"I've visited the Parkinson's Brain Bank and seen what fantastic work is going on there. Now we need a greater awareness of the benefits of brain donation so that more people come forward to register with us: so far 1,000 people have registered to donate their brains and with better public knowledge I'm sure we can double that number this year.

Scientific research on brains both with and without Parkinson's is essential. It's vital that we secure more potential donors as this will help us move closer to a cure for what can be a debilitating and distressing condition."

Steve Ford, Chief Executive of Parkinson's Disease Society, said: "In our 40th Anniversary year, we want everyone to think about how they can support us in the search for a cure for Parkinson's. If it feels right, then one way you can help could be to sign up to our Brain Donor Register."

More information

Learn more about Parkinson's Disease and being a donor: Parkinson's Disease Society

This article was published on Mon 20 April 2009

Image © James Steidl -

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