In August and September, we have issued 33 new grants totaling more than $7.3 million. The latest projects in our portfolio cross programs and targets, but all serve our mission to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease (PD) and improved treatments for those living with the disease today.
This total does not include grants issued by The Michael J. Fox Foundation for the Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s (ASAP) initiative to its Collaborative Research Network and its Global Parkinson’s Genetics Program (GP2).
Our additional investments complement ASAP funding to translate great ideas into new ways to treat the disease and its symptoms; to develop novel methods to measure Parkinson’s to speed trials; and to better define the biology and experience of Parkinson’s toward a next generation of therapies.
Below is a selection of recently funded projects across these goals. For more information on other MJFF-supported programs, visit our Funded Studies page.
Treat the Disease and Its Symptoms
In the past two months, we funded two studies, including one clinical trial, on therapies for hard-to-treat cognitive symptoms and three studies looking for drugs that may stop PD progression.
- Dag Aarsland, MD, PhD, at King’s College London will begin a clinical trial of a drug (nicotinic agonist) to treat mild cognitive impairment. The study will enroll 160 people with PD at sites in Europe; stay tuned for more on the start of this trial.
- Christopher Bishop, PhD, at the University of Binghamton is testing an available antidepressant for its impact on psychosis (hallucinations and delusions) in a model of PD. Positive results could move the therapy to Parkinson’s human studies.
- Two researchers (Magdalene Moran, PhD, at Caraway Therapeutics and Peter Vangheluwe, PhD, at KU Leauven) are screening drug compounds against targets (TMEM175 and ATP13A2, respectively) that increase lysosomal activity. Lysosomes are the cell’s recycling system — cleaning out damaged or extra cell parts — and do not function properly in PD. Lysosomal activators may protect cells by boosting that cleaning process.
- And Trent Woodruff, PhD, at The University of Queensland is testing compounds to lower activity of ASC protein, which drives inflammation. Scientists are learning more about how inflammation in brain cells contributes to PD.
Measure Parkinson’s to Speed Trials
Any trial of a Parkinson’s therapy needs tests to measure its impact. MJFF funds the discovery of methods to diagnose Parkinson’s, measure its progression and assess the effectiveness of treatments. This round of grants included projects to develop tests for various proteins and pathways linked to Parkinson’s, including the following.
- Michael Schwarzschild, MD, PhD, at Massachusetts General Hospital is looking at samples from our Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) to study the molecular signature of LRRK2 and GBA mutations. (Therapies against dysfunction in LRRK2 and GBA pathways are already in trials.)
- Gabor Kovacs, MD, PhD, from Toronto Western Hospital is measuring alpha-synuclein protein in colon tissue collected in our Systemic Synuclein Sampling Study (S4). Alpha-synuclein is a major therapeutic target, and some studies show protein changes in colon tissue even before PD diagnosis.
- Gergely Toth, PhD, at Cantabio Pharmaceuticals is creating a test for activity of the DJ-1 protein, which is linked to early-onset PD.
The PPMI study is a cornerstone of Parkinson’s research, with data and samples available from more than 1,400 participants collected over up to 10 years. Our landmark initiative is now expanding to more than 4,000 participants and adding 17 new sites (to total 50 in 12 countries). Many grants went to the staff and systems that are making that expansion — and its growing impact on PD research — possible. Learn more at michaeljfox.org/ppmi.
Define the Biology and Experience of PD
Better understanding what goes wrong in Parkinson’s — at the cellular level and the human level — can help better measure and treat it.
- Some new projects support work to better understand the role of different cellular proteins and process in how Parkinson’s begins and progresses. For example, Kim Ekroos, PhD, at Lipidomics Consulting Ltd. is investigating how imbalances in natural cellular fats called glycosphingolipids (seen with GBA mutations) may lead to Parkinson’s.
- And our online Fox Insight study is gathering information on the lived experience of disease from people with and without Parkinson’s to better define needs and priorities. Some grants this round went to maintaining the platform and study. See results from the Fox Insight COVID-19 and Parkinson’s survey.
Thank you for your support of Parkinson’s research. Learn more about how you can help scientists better treat, measure and define Parkinson’s disease.