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What We Fund: $10.4 Million in New Grants for Parkinson’s Research

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The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF) announces 72 new grant awards totaling nearly $10.4 million to projects that serve our mission to find a cure for Parkinson’s and improved treatments for those living with the disease today.

MJFF remains committed to the Parkinson’s research community during this challenging time. And we are ensuring that research moves forward through our funding programs and other supports. Our donor-raised dollars fund efforts to better define the biology and experience of Parkinson’s; measure disease risk, onset and progression; and treat the underlying disease and its symptoms. We also work with partners to enable progress across the field with valuable tools and resources. For more information on recent MJFF-supported projects, visit our Funded Studies page.

Better understanding the cascade of dysfunction that leads to Parkinson’s onset and progression can point to new ways to measure and treat it. We recently issued 26 new grants in this area at a total of $1.98 million. Some highlights follow.

  • Some new grants are from our Astrocyte Biology funding program. Astrocytes are star-shaped cells in the central nervous system with many roles supporting the health and communication of other cells. This funding program aims to support work to better understand their link to Parkinson’s disease and potential as a therapeutic target. Grants include support for James Goldman, MD, PhD, at Columbia University to explore astrocyte gene expression and for Geidy E. Serrano, PhD, at Banner Sun Health Research Institute to characterize astrocytes in normal aging and in Parkinson’s disease.
  • Other funding goes to projects exploring disease pathology in the immune system. Growing evidence is linking known Parkinson’s players such as LRRK2 to the immune system, and a handful of new grants are exploring those connections to better understand the way Parkinson’s develops and progresses and perhaps identify new treatment approaches. Maximiliano G Gutierrez, PhD, at The Francis Crick Institute is exploring the role of the LRRK2 protein (whose activity is heightened in Parkinson’s) in macrophages, large white blood cells. Igor Koralnik, MD, FAAN, at Northwestern University is investigating the virome in Parkinson’s. The virome is the set of viruses on and in the human body, which can elicit or affect the immune response.

MJFF funds the discovery of methods to diagnose Parkinson’s, measure its progression and assess the effectiveness of treatments for it. We recently supported 20 new projects in this area with a total of $4.45 million, including:

  • Sulev Koks, MD, PhD, from Murdoch University in Australia is combing genetic data from our Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) study. He is looking for elements in DNA that control how much of a gene is produced and that correlate to Parkinson’s disease. Identifying differences in the Parkinson’s population and among those with the disease (such as DNA elements linked to faster progression) could help predict risk of Parkinson’s or rate of progression.
  • We also are members of consortia bringing various partners together to develop better measures of Parkinson’s disease. Collaborations leverage expertise and resources to advance the field closer to vital assessment tools. The Critical Path for Parkinson’s (CPP) consortium, of which MJFF is a member, is organizing a meeting with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to discuss how to measure functional impact of new treatments. When reviewing therapies, the FDA wants to understand how a drug helps people live better daily lives, not just changes biology. We issued a grant to help plan the meeting, where CPP and MJFF representatives will discuss with the FDA how best to measure function, especially in early Parkinson’s disease. This conversation could lead to new tests in PPMI.

More information on what causes and contributes to Parkinson’s gives drug developers more places to intervene and stop its progression. We fund a variety of therapeutic approaches for more shots on goal toward cures. We also support work to help people with disease improve their quality of life. MJFF recently selected seven projects with grants totaling $2.47 million. These include:

  • While scientists aim to better define the relationship between the immune system and Parkinson’s, drug developers are already testing treatments against its dysfunction. Sean Joseph, PhD, at Calibr, a division of Scripps Research, is assessing a therapy in laboratory studies to help boost the immune response and fight inflammation.
  • Another key Parkinson’s player is the protein alpha-synuclein, which clumps in the brain cells of nearly all people with Parkinson’s disease. Grantee Guus Scheefhals, MSc, at Crossbeta Biosciences is testing in disease models a gene therapy approach to deliver an antibody against a certain species of the protein (oligomeric alpha-synuclein). This specific approach—and its optimized delivery into the brain—could have a greater likelihood of success against this priority target.
  • In parallel to efforts to slow or stop disease, researchers aim to improve options to manage symptoms. Aarash Bordbar, PhD, at Sinopia Biosciences is developing a therapy that would be taken with levodopa to ease symptoms without the common side effect of dyskinesia (uncontrollable movements).

Our Foundation builds infrastructure to enable and speed other studies. Our investments provide laboratory tools and patient data, for example, that other researchers can access quickly and easily. We recently granted $1.49 million to 19 projects supporting our ongoing efforts and fueling new resources. Highlights include the following:

  • We are supporting the generation and characterization of disease models exhibiting dysfunction with alpha-synuclein and LRRK2. These models can help scientists learn about the disease process and test new treatments.
  • MJFF is working with the Parkinson’s Foundation to plan and host a survey to better understand gaps in Parkinson’s care and hurdles to access. That information can help direct resource allocation and efforts to close those gaps.
  • Another award is funding programming for a Fox Insight survey on cannabis use and effects. Our online Fox Insight study is gathering data on frequency and type of marijuana use and positive and negative effects to better understand this treatment approach and to direct research studies.

Thank you for your support of Parkinson’s research. Learn more about how you can help scientists better define, measure and treat Parkinson’s disease.

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