Every year, thousands of neurologists, researchers and health professionals gather at the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting to present the latest in research, treatments and best practices in the neurological field – including Parkinson’s disease. This year, the Parkinson’s Foundation participated in this virtual event which took place April 17 – 22. The Foundation presented a poster titled PD GENEration During COVID-19: Transitioning to Remote Recruitment For Genetic Counseling and Testing.
PD GENEration: Mapping the Future of Parkinson’s Disease is a national study launched by the Parkinson’s Foundation in 2019. We offer genetic testing for Parkinson’s-related genes and genetic counseling at no cost for participants with a confirmed Parkinson’s disease (PD) diagnosis. Participation can be either in-person at one of our participating Centers of Excellence and Parkinson Study Group sites, or from home through a telemedicine appointment and at-home sample collection kit.
The poster, presented by Anna Naito, PhD, Associate Vice President of Research Programs, addresses several questions about pivoting the study to conduct genetic testing and counseling remotely. Here we highlight some of those questions and answers.
How could we safely conduct the PD GENEration study while following the social distancing and safety requirements during COVID-19 pandemic?
For PD GENEration, remote recruitment for genetic testing and counseling for people with PD was found to be not only feasible, but also popular. This method also increased participants’ geographic spread. Further, the telemedicine recruitment rate exceeded that of the in-person recruitment (204 participants over 5 months).
Before the pandemic, the pilot stage of PD GENEration was designed for in-person recruitment and participation at several Parkinson’s Foundation Centers of Excellence across the country. The winning combination was peoples’ genuine desire to learn their genetic status, a genetic test kit that could be mailed to their home, and the concept of telemedicine shifting from a rare occurrence to the ‘new normal’.
For people with PD, genetic testing can let you know if you carry known gene changes linked to the disease. It’s estimated that about 10 percent of people with PD have a genetic form of the disease, so by better understanding how those with genetic forms of PD experience symptoms related to Parkinson’s and respond to treatment, scientists can begin to develop improved treatments and personalized medicines.
A deeper understanding of the genetics of PD may also lead to better treatments themselves by revealing novel therapeutic targets, spurring development of better drugs. Genetic testing can also help people with PD and their clinicians identify whether they may qualify for enrollment in certain clinical trials.
Has the PD GENEration remote approach had any immediate positive or negative issues?
In terms of demographics, both in-person and remote approaches resulted in similar age and sex distribution. However, the telemedicine participants were more likely to have received a higher education. An important positive outcome was the increased geographic representation of PD GENEration participants spanning over 42 states in the US. This was only possible because the Foundation pivoted to offer remote participation. Importantly, despite the technological learning curve required with telemedicine, PD GENEration successfully demonstrated feasibility and adoption of telemedicine-based research participation among the Parkinson’s community.
What does this mean?
The goals of PD GENEration are to empower people with PD and their care team, improve Parkinson’s care and research and accelerate enrollment in clinical trials. While virtually all clinical research studies came to an abrupt halt at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Parkinson’s Foundation leads the field as one of the few Parkinson’s studies to continue enrollment during the pandemic by offering remote participation. We now know that telemedicine is a highly successful approach to conducting genetic testing and furthering these goals. By participating in this study and contributing their genetic data, people with PD can better manage the disease, help scientists in their journey to advance understanding of PD, improve PD care and research and accelerate enrollment in clinical trials.
To learn more about PD GENEration or to enroll in the study, visit Parkinson.org/PDGENEration.