Michael J. Fox Foundation Announces Grants for Parkinson's Biomarker Research Bringing Total Investment to Nearly $4 Million
ďFocused work to identify a reliable biomarker or series of biomarkers is critical first and foremost for physicians to accurately diagnose the disease. Advances will also impact drug development efforts, enabling researchers to validate that a particular drug is having the desired clinical effectĒ said Deborah W. Brooks, president and CEO of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. ďThe Foundation has directed nearly $4 million in this priority area to date.Ē
The development of a reliable biomarker would dramatically accelerate research into the etiology and pathophysiology of Parkinsonís disease, including the testing of new drugs and other neuroprotective strategies. The Foundation reviewed proposals from applicants worldwide studying clinical and biological biomarkers and ultimately awarded grants to six teams.
One team led by Daniela Berg, MD will compare brain ultrasounds of people with Parkinsonís disease against brain ultrasounds taken from people without the disease to identify characteristics unique to Parkinsonís. If validated, this approach has the potential to be a side-effect free, highly sensitive technique to improve the accuracy of early diagnosis of Parkinsonís disease.
Another team hypothesizes that olfactory (sense of smell) functioning may be a useful predictor of Parkinsonís disease and its progression. Olfactory dysfunction occurs in an estimated 80 to 90 percent of people with Parkinsonís and is characterized by an inability to identify and detect smells or differentiate between smells. It is more common than tremor and may pre-date the onset of motor symptoms by several years. The researchers aim to quantify olfactory functioning in people with Parkinsonís compared with people who donít have the disease and to track changes over time.
A team from Baylor College of Medicine is interested in the protein known as NURR1 that is essential for the development and survival of dopaminergic neurons. They hope to validate earlier studies which found that levels of NURR1 messenger RNA are significantly lower in the blood of people with Parkinsonís disease.
Previously, the Foundation funded work to identify genetic mutations and patterns of gene expression associated with Parkinsonís disease. In this round of funding, a team from the
This program was funded with a lead gift from the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation in memory of its founder Mr. Edmond J. Safra. Considered by many to have been among the greatest bankers of his generation, Mr. Safra was also an extraordinary philanthropist. He contributed to countless humanitarian, religious, educational and cultural causes the world over. He was deeply committed to the search for a cure for neurodegenerative diseases, in particular Parkinsonís disease, and made the support of medical research in this field one of the key objectives when he established the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation. He shared his devotion to this cause with his wife, Mrs. Lily Safra, a member of the Board of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinsonís Research and, since her husbandís passing in 1999, Chairman of the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation.
To date, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinsonís Research has invested more than $54 million in research aimed at finding a cure for the disease, either directly or through partnerships.
The following is a complete list of researchers who were awarded grants under the Foundationís Biomarkers II program initiative:
Daniela Berg, MD
Hertie-Institute for Clinical Brain Research
Specificity & Sensitivity of Transcranial Ultrasound as Biomarker in Parkinson's Disease
John Duda, MD
Omar M. El-Agnaf, PhD
Weidong Le, MD, PhD
Reduction of Nurr1 mRNA in Human Peripheral Blood Lymphocytes as a Biomarker of Parkinsonís Disease
Mary Maral Mouradian, MD &
Jing Zhang, MD, PhD