For Parkinson's Awareness Week 2017 (10-16 April), we're publishing a series of blogs throughout the week which will provide unique insights into Parkinson's from a range of perspectives - from those living with Parkinson's to the researchers & clinicians dedicated to developing better treatments.
As a medical student at Pisa University, I became fascinated by brain physiology and neurosciences in general and, therefore, when the time came for me to decide my specialist training, I had no doubt that I wanted to become a neurologist. During my Neurology training, I was lucky enough to work with Professor Ubaldo Bonuccelli, who is one of the Italian top neurologists in the field of Parkinson’ s disease. He is also an excellent neuropharmacologist and working with him I have acquired my passion for pharmacological research and the interest in clinical trials to help the development of new medications to improve the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
After completing my training, I moved to London to join Professor David Brooks’ team in London. Once again, I was lucky to work with a world-famous scientist who has extensively contributed to Parkinson’s disease research. With him, I have learned to use imaging techniques such as PET and MRI scans to explore the chemical changes that occur in the brain of patients with neurodegenerative diseases. In Parkinson’s disease, imaging can help understand the brain changes and the mechanisms that lead to the occurrence of motor and non-motor symptoms. For example, my own work has established for the first time that some key symptoms in Parkinson’s disease such as fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness may have specific deficits in the brain and this may lead in turn to treatment strategies for these often disabling symptoms. More recently, I have used PET scans to investigate the occurrence of early neuroinflammation in the brain of patients at risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
In my career, I have always tried to combine my dedication to improve patients’ symptoms in my clinical practice with my scientific commitment to improve the knowledge of the causes and mechanisms of the disease so that we can identify new targets for drugs that can eventually cure the disease and be beneficial for millions of people.
In Newcastle, I am continuing my research with PET and MRI imaging. Newcastle University has just acquired a state-of-art PET/MRI scanner that enable to collect at the same time information about the structure, the function and the chemistry of the brain and this will facilitate our understanding of the pathophysiology of Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.
We are also running a number of Clinical Trials of new therapeutic agents that aim to improve the daily control of motor and non-motor symptom in patients with Parkinson’s disease or to delay the progression of the disease. These Trials are open to suitable patients who want to contribute to research and at the same time take the opportunity to try the most innovative drugs when they are still in their developmental phase.
When in comes to research, it is my strong belief that scientists, clinicians, and patients need to work together and share the same commitment and dedication. No advancement can be done if we do not work as a team.