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Foundation Honors Three Distinguished Scientists with Our 2019 Major Research Prizes

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF) honored three researchers for their groundbreaking work to speed critical advances in Parkinson's disease and dystonia research on November 16, 2019, in New York City.

The fifth annual Bachmann-Strauss Prize for Excellence in Dystonia Research was awarded to two distinguished researchers: Antonio Pisani, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology at the University of Rome Tor Vergata in Italy, and David G. Standaert, MD, PhD, John N. Whitaker Professor and chairman of neurology at The University of Alabama at Birmingham. The prize recognizes dystonia researchers for key scientific discoveries and incentivizes the next generation of investigators to continue forging paths toward cures.

Pisani and Standaert began working together over a decade ago, publishing their first paper together in 2006. They are now co-authors on nine articles detailing the pathology of dystonia, a movement disorder characterized by painful, prolonged muscle contractions that result in abnormal movements and postures. Dystonia is both a distinct movement disorder and a common symptom of Parkinson's disease. Their work examines the role and relationship of neurotransmitter activity in dystonia.

Both Pisani and Standaert are also practicing clinicians, learning from their patients to inform their laboratory research and applying learnings from the bench at the bedside.

The award is accompanied by an unrestricted research grant of $100,000 to support a joint research effort. Pisani and Standaert will use the funds to study a genetic form of dystonia to better understand the mutation’s effect.

Andrew Singleton, PhD, Chief of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics and NIH Distinguished Investigator at the National Institute on Aging, received the Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson's Research. The Pritzker Prize has been awarded annually since 2011 by MJFF to recognize researchers who make an exceptional contribution to Parkinson's research and exhibit a commitment to mentoring the next generation of Parkinson's scientists.

Singleton studies the genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases. His team has discovered several genetic mutations associated with Parkinson’s, including the alpha-synuclein multiplication mutation and mutations in the LRRK2 gene. Today there are 11 therapies against alpha-synuclein dysfunction and 3 targeting LRRK2 in clinical trials.

Over the last several years, his lab has worked to understand how common genetic changes influence disease; collectively, they have identified 90 genetic risk factors for Parkinson’s disease. Included in that analysis is data from MJFF’s flagship Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative, for which Singleton leads the Genetics Study Core.

Singleton will receive a $100,000 grant, which in the spirit of the prize he plans to use to sponsor a student in his laboratory.  

The Bachmann-Strauss Prize for Excellence in Dystonia Research was established in September 2014 with a leadership commitment from the Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia and Parkinson Foundation (BSDPF). The alliance between MJFF and BSDPF builds on a 10-year working relationship between the foundations. This major dystonia research prize broadens public awareness and recognizes key scientific discoveries in dystonia.

The Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson's Research was established by Karen Pritzker, daughter of Robert A. Pritzker, and her late husband, investor Michael Vlock. The prize is named in honor of the late Robert A. Pritzker, a renowned industrialist, entrepreneur and philanthropist. The award is designed by renowned artist and Parkinson's patient Tom Shannon.

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