Skip to main content
Podcast: Treating Parkinson's 'Off' Episodes

If Not Us, Who? Humans behind a Biomarker Breakthrough

Faith and science are not often discussed together, but science requires a leap of faith. A cold call to a researcher in Texas and the contributions of more than 1,100 study participants led two scientists from The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF), Samantha Hutten, PhD and Katie Kopil, PhD, and a team of researchers to a discovery that would forever change the way we diagnose, study and, ultimately, find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. 

Born out of data from MJFF’s landmark Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) study, this breakthrough led to a tool that, for the first time, can detect Parkinson’s disease in people who have not yet shown symptoms. Researchers can now speed treatments for people with Parkinson’s at all stages as they welcome this new era of Parkinson’s research. “I remember thinking to myself, this is my dream job,” Hutten shares in a new podcast launched by MJFF, which tells the behind-the-scenes stories of how scientists and patients accelerated the latest breakthrough. 

When Donna Rajkovic, an 11-year PPMI participant, was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s, she had three children and no family history of the disease. She was “stopped in [her] tracks” and had a feeling of responsibility to herself, her loved ones and the Parkinson’s community to contribute to research, so she enrolled in PPMI.  

The Michael J. Fox Foundation made the bold decision to launch PPMI in 2010. It was risky and unprecedented, but something rang true: if not us, who?  

“One thing that makes the Fox Foundation so special is that we dare to be bold,” Kopil says, “The Fox Foundation certainly isn’t scared of taking risks.”    

“I'm so grateful to everybody. I'm grateful to Michael J. Fox taking that risk, saying, ‘Hey, we're going to go in blind and let's see what happens.’ And here we are years later. There's progress. There's hope,” says Donna. 

Join host, Maggie Kuhl, Vice President of Research Communications at MJFF, for a rich discussion with Samantha Hutten and Katie Kopil on their journey to this discovery, accompanied by PPMI participant Donna Rajkovic, to hear what a breakthrough like this means to the Parkinson’s community. 

Host: Maggie Kuhl, Vice President, Research Communications, MJFF  


  • Samantha Hutten, PhD: Director of Research Programs, MJFF 

  • Katie Kopil, PhD: Senior Vice President of Clinical Research, MJFF  

  • Donna Rajkovic: PPMI participant since 2012 and founder of Team Fox Detroit  

If you’d rather listen on the go, subscribe to our Michael J. Fox Foundation Parkinson's Podcast on iTunes or through any podcast app on your smartphone or tablet. And if you enjoyed what you heard, share it with a friend or leave a review on iTunes. It helps listeners like you find and support our mission.     

View a transcript of this podcast. 

Whether you have Parkinson’s or not, you can help move research forward. Join the study that’s changing everything. 

The expansion of PPMI to increase volunteer recruitment efforts and remote testing for those at-risk for PD, as well as expanding efforts to enable breakthroughs such as αSyn-SAA, is supported by major funding from Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s (ASAP), a coordinated research initiative focused on accelerating the pace of discovery and informing the path to a cure for Parkinson’s. In addition to ASAP, PPMI is supported by the Edmond J. Safra Foundation, the Farmer Family Foundation, Connie and Steven Ballmer, and Susan and Riley Bechtel. 

We use cookies to ensure that you get the best experience. By continuing to use this website, you indicate that you have read our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.