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What We Fund: $13.7M to Studies toward Measuring Mobility Outcomes and Profiling Genes in Parkinson’s

Researcher in a lab

The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) awarded 61 grants that total more than $13.7 million in April and May. 

These supported projects aim to improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) through treatments that directly address PD and insights about PD’s core biology that open the door to better care in the future. See full list of MJFF funded studies.     

Smartphone Application for Louder, Clearer Speech 

Our Foundation continues to fund the development of technology to treat and measure PD. MJFF funded the initial development of Understand Me for Life, a smartphone application to help improve speech volume and clarity for people with PD. Gemma Moya-Galé, PhD, at Long Island University; Bryan Keller, PhD, at Teachers College, Columbia University; and their team will now begin a three-year study testing the app’s efficacy in people with PD.  

Measuring Parkinson’s Pathway  

Many targets in PD are tested for their exact association to the development of PD. Johannes Levin, MD, and Armine Giese, MD, at MODAG are testing a diagnostic tool that binds itself to alpha-synuclein in pre-clinical models of PD and Multiple System Atrophy (MSA). The aim is to detect alpha-synuclein presence and measure the protein aggregations, often seen in people with PD. If successful, the tool can be used to detect the disease presence and progression and measure the effects of experimental therapies aimed at reducing these aggregations in PD and MSA.  

Profiling Genes in Parkinson’s 

Researchers study genes and genetic pathways to better understand Parkinson’s disease. That information can lead to therapies to slow or stop the progression of Parkinson’s. These findings also may help diagnose and predict the disease. Some recently funded projects explore varied genetic pathways involved in PD:  

  • Rita M. Cowell, PhD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and her team are studying the gene Atp6v0al. They are testing if reducing its levels might help slow or stop the damage of brain cells in PD. They are conducting small laboratory studies in cell cultures and disease models. If successful, reducing this gene activity may be a therapeutic approach for protecting cells and preventing PD progression. 

  • Another study led by Pier Giorgio Mastroberardino, PhD, at the FIRC Institute for Molecular Oncology in Italy is analyzing a large blood sample dataset collected through MJFF’s landmark Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI). They are looking to identify a biological signature in the blood that indicates an accumulation of DNA damage that is often seen in people with PD. If successfully identified, this biological signature could be used as a tool to help diagnose and/or predict early-stage PD and disease progression.  

  • Mina Ryten, MD, PhD, and a group of scientists at University College London are also leveraging data from PPMI to study blood RNA samples from people with PD. [RNA is the gene’s messenger.] Their study will look for biological markers of the different ways that PD affects individuals. Such markers may help doctors distinguish people with differing symptoms or predict disease severity, which can lead to improved care and new treatments.  

  • Another study utilizing PPMI data is led by Fábio Klamt, PhD, and his team at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) in Brazil. They are using genetic data from PPMI to classify people with different subtypes of PD: different symptoms, age of onset and rates of progression. This work might find potential biomarkers that could be used to help accelerate the development of better treatments for each subtype.  

  • MJFF grants additional funding to advance research on the PINK1 gene, led by Miratul Muqit, MD, PhD, at the University of Dundee in Scotland. His study shows that the gene can modify a class of proteins called Rab GTPases and boosting that interaction may help protect cells.  

The Michael J. Fox Foundation continues to fund advances in medicine to drive toward effective therapies that can prevent, slow or stop disease progression.  

You can be a part of that mission.  

PPMI is our landmark study on a mission to stop the disease. It is open to anyone over the age 18 in the United States. Whether you have Parkinson’s or not, join the study that is changing everything.  

Recently diagnosed with PD or live outside the U.S.? Connect with the PPMI team.  

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