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New step forward for stroke patients

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.

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." 

For further information:

Please contact the University of Leeds Press Office on +44 (0)113 343 4031 or email

or go to The Academic Department of Rehabilitation Medicine

Notes to editors

1. The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed the University of Leeds to be the UK's eighth biggest research powerhouse. The University is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015.

2. With more than 6,000 students, 1,500 staff and annual research income topping £35m, the Faculty of Medicine and Health at Leeds is bigger than many entire universities. Leeds has one of the largest medical and bioscience research bases in the UK, and is an acknowledged world leader in cancer, cardiovascular, psychiatric, genetic and musculoskeletal research. Treatments developed in Leeds are transforming the lives of people around the world living with conditions such as HIV, TB, diabetes and malaria

3. The Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine (LIMM) is a research institute of the University dedicated to defining the molecules involved in human diseases and using this knowledge to develop novel therapies and new drugs.

4. Stroke is the commonest cause of severe disability (annual UK Incidence of first stroke is 100,000)

5. 31% are still dependent for outside mobility and 15% for inside mobility 12 months after stroke

6. The EME programme funds high quality research  which seeks to determine whether a health intervention
7. (e.g. a drug, diagnostic technique or device) works and in some cases how or why it works

8. The Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation programme ( ) is funded by MRC and managed by the NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Co-ordinating Centre (NETSCC), based at the University of Southampton.

9. The NIHR provides the framework through which the research staff and research infrastructure of the NHS in England is positioned, maintained and managed as a national research facility.  The NIHR provides the NHS with the support and infrastructure it needs to conduct first-class research funded by the Government and its partners alongside high-quality patient care, education and training.  Its aim is to support outstanding individuals (both leaders and collaborators), working in world class facilities (both NHS and university), conducting leading edge research focused on the needs of patients.

10. The Medical Research Council is dedicated to improving human health through excellent science. It invests on behalf of the UK taxpayer. Its work ranges from molecular level science to public health research, carried out in universities, hospitals and a network of its own units and institutes. The MRC liaises with the Health Departments, the National Health Service and industry to take account of the public's needs. The results have led to some of the most significant discoveries in medical science and benefited the health and wealth of millions of people in the UK and around the world.

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