New research will determine whether an inexpensive drug called L-dopa, widely used in the treatment of Parkinson's disease, could also help thousands of stroke patients regain mobility and independence.
The world's first large scale study of this treatment, led by Professor Bipin Bhakta at the University of Leeds, will investigate whether L-dopa, when used with conventional physiotherapy and occupational therapy, increases the person's ability to relearn essential day to day activities such as walking and dressing.
Professor Bhakta, head of the Academic Department of Rehabilitation Medicine in the Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine explains: "If an existing and inexpensive drug can help augment the effects of conventional rehabilitation treatments this represents a major step forward in improving stroke recovery."
He says existing scientific evidence shows that certain nerve pathways in the brain are important in how people learn movement skills. L-dopa may work by enhancing the activity of some of these pathways and by combining the medication with routine rehabilitation treatments there may be an opportunity to increase the effect of our current treatments.
A team of stroke clinicians, researchers and clinical trial experts in Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham Newcastle and the Grampian area of Scotland will work in partnership with stroke survivors and their carers to undertake this research. The Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation (EME) programme have awarded the team £1.4 million. This research is funded by the Medical Research Council and managed by the National Institute for Health Research.
Amanda Farrin, director of Health Sciences Division and principal statistician at the Clinical Trials Research Unit (CTRU) at the University of Leeds said: "This is an example of how stroke patients can have access to groundbreaking treatment through collaboration between clinicians and academia. With the involvement of the CTRU, patients can be reassured that the research will be conducted to the highest standards. The study is due to start in 2010."
The CTRU will be overseeing recruitment of stroke patients to the study through UK Stroke Research Network which will include stroke services within the Yorkshire Stroke Research Network such as Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust as well as others around the UK.
Professor Bhakta said "Recovery from stroke is essentially an educational process - rehabilitation assists the person to relearn skills. We want to find out if using an existing drug in a new context enhances this learning, offering the potential for speedier recovery for many people with stroke."