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The 4th International Parkinson’s Disease Symposium

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Published on Monday, 29 October 2018

An interdisciplinary conference to tackle Parkinson’s disease and dementia

On the 11 and 12 October 2018, the Luxembourg Center for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) of the University of Luxembourg hosted its 4th International Parkinson’s Disease Symposium.
The objective was to take up important aspects and experiences from previous meetings, while at the same time taking a step forward by bridging the gap between fundamental and clinical research towards integrated care and precision medicine. The conference successfully brought together around 170 participants from diverse backgrounds, i.e. researchers, doctors, nurses, speech pathologists, physiotherapists and – last but not least – patients and their relatives. Each session integrated worldwide distinguished academics coming from fundamental, translational and clinical research as well as one young researcher. The conference gave the opportunity for discussion and interdisciplinary exchanges on the latest research and ways to bring this back to the patients.

Keynote and introduction
The two days gave an excellent overview of the diversity of topics linked with Parkinson’s disease, starting with a keynote presentation from 2011 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine, Prof. Jules A. Hoffmann. Prof. Hoffmann, from the University of Strasbourg, opened the conference with a talk about the discovery of the innate immunity and its translation from insects to humans. By demonstrating the marked conservation of innate defense mechanism between insects and humans, the work initiated by Hoffmann and his collaborators has led to identify  novel roles of innate immunity in cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. One of the main conference organisers, Prof. Rejko Krüger states: “I was deeply impressed by the presentation of the Nobel Laureate Prof Jules Hoffmann, who perfectly illustrated the need to think beyond borders and join forces between different disciplines for great discoveries – this is what we are currently aiming at in the Luxembourg biomedical ecosystem”.

Later that day, Dr Mary Baker MBE, former President of the European Brain Council, spoke about the societal challenges facing an ageing population living with multiple chronic conditions . She stressed that these challenges require a new focus.  It is a great achievement that we can live longer on this planet but in its wake comes new challenges and our society must turn its attention to prevention.  At the moment, we do not know how to prevent Parkinson's Disease but with an early and accurate diagnosis and a more informed patient, we can slow the advance of the illness, reducing the level of distress to the patient and family and cost to the health system.

A multidisciplinary panel of speakers
The range of scientific disciplines was very broad as well, from neurology to physiotherapy, speech therapy, psychology, and biomedicine. The first day was divided into three sessions and focused on genetics in Parkinson’s disease, new strategies to prevent neurodegeneration as well as new technologies in healthcare, including smart phone and sensor-based devices. 

In the first session, Prof. Thomas Gasser from the Hertie-Institute for Clinical Brain Research Tübingen (Germany), highlighted the progress in genetic research in Parkinson’s disease and its impact on new therapeutic approaches. On the other hand, Prof. Swerdlow, from the University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center, underlined the relevance of mitochondrial DNA defects that contribute to mitochondrial dysfunction, thus increasing the risk for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

On the second day, the sessions focused on precision medicine in Parkinson’s disease, patient cohorts as test beds and multidisciplinary approaches to Parkinson’s disease care. 

In particular, Prof. Serge Przedborski, from Columbia University, underlined the neuron-centric approach to neurodegeneration. The research Prof. Przedborski and his team conduct is geared toward unraveling the molecular basis of neurodegeneration and devising therapeutic strategies to successfully intervene in the processes that cause neuronal death, the source of many neurodegenerative disorders. 

The last session brought together clinicians and allied health professionals, who highlighted the different and complementary approaches for Parkinson’s disease care. From neuropsychology, to speech therapy and physiotherapy, a multidisciplinary approach is needed for improving care in a patient-centered approach.

Parkinson’s disease through the eyes of a patient  
The conference closed with a panel discussion about emerging topics for providing value-based research and care to patients. The panel was composed of a neurologist, a neuropsychologist, a physiotherapist, a speech therapist, and a patient representative. Mr Frank Michler as a person with Parkinson’s disease, highlighted his personal experiences during his disease journey and impressively explained the daily obstacles patients face.  The joint discussions within the panel and together with the audience of researchers and clinicians created shared ideas for next steps into value-based care for Parkinson’s disease. Prof. Krüger concludes: “The innovative concept of integrating speakers from basic science, clinical research and care together with the active participation of patients created a stimulating environment for jointly defining future directives in Parkinson’s disease treatment”. 

 

 

More pictures of the conference can be found here.