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What We Fund: $19 Million to Test New Treatments, Measure Mobility with Radio Signals, and Relate Environmental and Genetic Risk

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The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) devotes our donor-raised dollars to promising scientific efforts that will help bring new treatments and cures to people with Parkinson's. In this bimonthly report, we review some of the 50 grants totaling more than $19 million we awarded in August and September. See a full list of MJFF-funded studies.

Therapies to Ease Symptoms

This latest round of funding is supporting two new studies testing treatments in human volunteers.

Approaches to Slow or Stop Parkinson’s

Seven projects received funding to explore new ways to slow or stop Parkinson’s disease. These studies are in the laboratory testing phase, but positive results could rapidly lead to clinical trials. Some are testing approaches to correct or offset dysfunction in the LRRK2 and GBA and inflammation pathways. Others are testing innovative approaches to protect brain cells:

Detecting and Monitoring Parkinson’s

Key to advancing new therapies are tests to measure Parkinson’s progression and symptoms and therapeutic impact on those processes. Recently supported studies are looking for disease-related differences in, for example, immune cells. Another is using a groundbreaking technology:

  • Emerald Innovations, Inc. is testing its Emerald sensor device to assess Parkinson’s mobility, sleep and medication response. The device sits in a room and captures radio signals that bounce off a person’s body as they go about their daily lives. Changes in these signals may help measure disease severity and progression and impact of treatments or interventions like exercise programs.

Analyzing Fox Insight Data to Better Understand Parkinson’s

Our online clinical study Fox Insight collects data from people with and without Parkinson’s disease. Some volunteers with Parkinson’s also shared genetic data with the study. Earlier this year MJFF launched a funding program to support analysis of Fox Insight data. Selected projects include:

  • Farren Basil Shaw Briggs, PhD, at Case Western Reserve University will identify subgroups of people with Parkinson’s who display similar patterns in mobility and pain. Then his team will look for genetic and non-genetic factors that contribute to these subgroup assignments. That data could (i) help predict long-term outcomes and (ii) direct biological studies that could lead to treatments for these symptoms.
  • Ethan Brown, MD, at the University of California, San Francisco will examine the association between environmental exposures, genetic variants and the severity of motor and cognitive symptoms. Understanding these interactions could help target prevention strategies to those most at risk.
  • Ali Hamedani, MD, at the University of Pennsylvania will leverage a “virtual census” of people with Parkinson’s in the U.S. Comparing Fox Insight data could help understand how data trends in Fox Insight relate to the broader population. Better understanding the commonality and severity of symptoms, for example, across the population could help direct resources and studies.

We fund the most promising, cutting-edge projects to discover the therapies and strategies that will improve daily life for people living with Parkinson’s today and achieve a tomorrow without the disease.

Interested in joining a study? Our landmark Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) is open to anyone over age 18 in the U.S. Get started. (Outside the US? Some international sites are recruiting.)

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