With the ageing of the population, degenerative diseases of the brain constitute one of the greatest challenges of the new century for health care in all Western countries.
Brain diseases (like Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis) become more prominent in middle age, whereas other (like Alzheimer's) dominate in the elderly. They are typically slowly progressive, leading to years of disability and dependency before death after 10-20 years, and the needs for long-term care impose major economic and social stresses on the patients, their families and our society.
Advances in the brain sciences now reveal that the brain is far more plastic than previously thought, so that it is now possible to envision new strategies for protection, promoting recovery and surgical repair of damage and disease in the brain.
Research groups on the Cathays and Heath Park campuses have been at the forefront of brain repair by cellular transplantation, and two decades of basic research have led to the start of the first UK trials of transplantation in Huntington's disease. Present research projects are now focused on the development of stem cells, xenografts and gene therapy as alternative, more-flexible treatments for Huntington's and Parkinson's diseases and with longer-term application for stroke and other progressive diseases of ageing.