Growth Factors and Parkinson's Disease – Where Next?

4 June 2020

International experts review the progress of treatment of Parkinson’s disease with growth factors and recommend the design of future trials, reports JPD

Amsterdam, NL – Growth factors such as glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) were initially thought to be exciting new treatments for Parkinson’s disease (PD), but trials have been disappointing. A panel of prominent leaders in the field convened to discuss whether there is a future for this approach and what any future PD trial involving GDNF and other GDNF family neurotrophic factors should consider. Their discussions and recommendations are published in the Journal of Parkinson's Disease.

"There is clear evidence that GDNF and related growth factors can restore the dopaminergic nigrostriatal pathway in several animal models of PD,” explained lead author Roger A. Barker, PhD, Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair, Department of Clinical Neuroscience and WT-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, Cambridge, UK. “However, this has yet to translate into a clinically meaningful and robust response in patients."

Growth factors support the development, growth, and survival of cells in the body and brain. The concept of repairing the brain with growth factors has been pursued for many years in a variety of neurodegenerative diseases including primarily PD. Their properties make them an exciting prospect for developing new treatments that could help repair the damage caused in PD.

An international group of experts met to discuss the history and current status of GDNF and related growth factor neurturin (NRTN) therapy for PD, comprehensively reviewing preclinical and clinical studies. Critical evaluation led to conclusions about what has been achieved and what has not been shown using these agents. It was generally agreed that GDNF and NRTN have worked relatively well in neurotoxic animal models of PD, but that their translation to the clinic has so far failed to show a major impact, perhaps highlighting the predictive limitations of toxin animal models being commonly used in the preclinical space in PD to look at disease modifying therapies.

"As to what any trial should look like, there is still much debate as to what primary end-point should be used and at what time point, and input from the patient community on this will be vital going forward," noted co-author Anders Bjorklund, MD, PhD, Wallenberg Neuroscience Center, Lund University, Lund, Sweden.

The workshop participants agreed that the question of whether GDNF has a competitive future in the treatment of PD is still unclear. They offered recommendations about what future trials with GDNF should consider and how they might be designed. For example, compared to the relative complexity of the neurosurgery needed to implant an infusion delivery system and ongoing infusions used in a recent GDNF trial, they felt a viral delivery system using newer modified approaches requiring less complex surgery would be more advantageous. In addition, they indicated that early stage PD patients would most likely benefit from such treatment because this group would have the most neurons and fibers left to rescue, with evidence of fiber loss restricted to the dorsal striatum, where the therapeutic agent could be targeted.

The workshop concluded that future trials with GDNF and related agents should be considered but that much more careful attention is needed to be given to all aspects, including the type of patient enrolled; the form of growth factor given; the dose and volume of agent given; the mode of delivery and length of follow-up along with optimal assessment tools.

Co-author Anthony E. Lang, MD, The Edmond J. Safra Program in Parkinson's Disease and the Morton and Gloria Shulman Movement Disorders Clinic, Toronto Western Hospital, and the Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada, added, "We have recommended that future trials with this or related agents should be considered, but that much thought needs to be given to all aspects of any such trial."

"This meeting uniquely brought together all those who have worked on GDNF and related factors over the last 25 or so years," concluded Patrik Brundin, MD, PhD, Center for Neurodegenerative Science, Van Andel Institute, Grand Rapids, MI, USA, a workshop participant and co-Editor-in-Chief of the journal. “It led to an informed, honest, and stimulating discussion about the future of this field, in a way that has to be seen as an exemplar of how best to take forward any such experimental therapies for this condition."


Full open access article:"GDNF and Parkinson's Disease: Where Next? A Summary from a Recent Workshop" by Roger A Barker, Anders Bjorklund, Don M. Gash, Alan Whone, Amber Van Laar, Jeffrey H. Kordower, Krystof Bankiewicz, Karl Kieburtz, Mart Saarma, Sigrid Booms, Henri J. Huttunen, Adrian Kells, Massimo S. Fiandaca, A. Jon Stoessl, David Eidelberg, Howard Federoff, Merja Voutilainen, David T. Dexter, Jamie Eberling, Patrik Brundin, Lyndsey Isaacs, Leah Mursaleen, Eros Bresolin, Camille Carroll, Alasdair Coles, Brian Fiske, Helen Matthews, Codrin Lungu, Richard K. Wyse, Simon Stott, and Anthony E. Lang (DOI: 10.3233/JPD-202004) published online in the Journal of Parkinson's Disease (June 2020) in advance of Volume 10, Issue 3 by IOS Press. This article is openly available at:

The Cure Parkinson's Trust organized this meeting; it was hosted by the Van Andel Institute.

To request the full text of the study or additional information contact Diana Murray, IOS Press (+1 718 640 5678 or Journalists wishing to interview the study's authors should contact Helen Matthews, The Cure Parkinson's Trust (

About Journal of Parkinson's Disease
Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2020, the Journal of Parkinson's Disease (JPD) is dedicated to providing an open forum for original research in basic science, translational research and clinical medicine that will expedite our fundamental understanding and improve treatment of Parkinson’s disease. The journal is international and multidisciplinary and aims to promote progress in the epidemiology, etiology, genetics, molecular correlates, pathogenesis, pharmacology, psychology, diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson's disease. JPD publishes research reports, reviews, short communications, and letters-to-the-editor and offers very rapid publication and an affordable open access option. JPD has a Journal Impact Factor of 3.698 according to Journal Citation Reports (Web of Science Group, 2019) and is published by IOS Press.

About IOS Press
IOS Press is headquartered in Amsterdam with satellite offices in the USA, Germany, India and China and serves the information needs of scientific and medical communities worldwide. IOS Press now publishes more than 80 international journals and about 75 book titles each year on subjects ranging from computer science, artificial intelligence, and engineering to medicine, neuroscience, and cancer research.