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$1.9 Million Awarded Through Community Fast Track 2005

NEWYORK, NY — Investigations of serotonin neurons, cellular iron levels and an approved diabetes drug are three of 15 research projects to receive nearly $1.9 million in total funding from The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) and other U.S. Parkinson’s organizations under the annual Community Fast Track initiative. The funding will drive new and novel research to advance scientific understanding of Parkinson’s disease in the coming year.

Community Fast Track is a pipeline for innovative concepts in basic Parkinson’s research. The 2005 program departs from previous years in duration of funding, which has been shortened from two years to one, with the possibility of supplemental funding if research teams meet certain one-year milestones and have a plan in place to address next steps. The change was implemented to encourage greater scientific risk-taking and accountability.

“With Community Fast Track, the Foundation casts a wide net for new ideas every year,” said Deborah W. Brooks, MJFF president and CEO. “By limiting initial grant funding to one year and increasing the focus on rapid deliverables, we’ve enhanced our ability to identify and quickly push forward the studies with the greatest promise to yield meaningful new therapeutic interventions.”

The majority of awardees will work to generate new neuroprotective strategies with potential to yield the “holy grail” of Parkinson’s research: therapies to slow or stop disease progression. Marina Emborg, MD, PhD, will test pioglitazone (Actos), an approved type-II diabetes drug, for possible protective effects in animal models of Parkinson’s. James Connor, PhD, will study mice lacking the gene that regulates iron levels in cells to determine whether iron imbalance can result in dopamine neurodegeneration. Baoji Xu, PhD, will test the hypothesis that reduced levels of the growth factor BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) can result in loss of dopamine neurons in mice. Chenjian Li, PhD, will look for nigrostriatal deficits and progressive dopamine neuron death in mice genetically engineered to express mutated forms of the LRRK2 gene. Mutations in LRRK2 have been linked to both familial and sporadic forms of Parkinson’s.

Other awardees will investigate potential new approaches to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s and/or reduce levodopa-induced dyskinesias. Anders Björklund, MD, PhD, will test whether the presence or absence of serotonin neurons affects dyskinesias in a rodent model of Parkinson’s. Angela Cenci-Nilsson, MD, PhD, will investigate if and how levodopa and dopamine agonists affect growth of new blood vessels in the brain and/or disrupt the blood-brain barrier, and whether these effects in turn play a role in causing dyskinesias.

One awardee, Susan McConnell, PhD, aims to improve outcomes for cell transplantation therapy in Parkinson’s. Dr. McConnell will work to identify factors the brain uses to guide dopamine neurons’ axons to their target areas in the striatum. This knowledge could help improve the ability of transplanted dopamine cells to incorporate, survive and function in a host brain.

Twelve national and local Parkinson’s disease groups teamed together with MJFF to fund Community Fast Track 2005. Contributors to the program include the Parkinson’s Unity Walk, The Parkinson Alliance, Inc., the Lawrence County Parkinson’s Association, Parkinson Association of Northern California Sacramento, the Parkinson’s Association of the Rockies and Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon. Many are annual supporters of the program. Other past donors include the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and the National Parkinson Foundation. Launched in 2001, the Community Fast Track program has awarded approximately $15 million to support 86 research projects.

The following is a complete list of Community Fast Track 2005 awardees:

Veerle Baekelandt, PhD
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Netherlands
Pathophysiological role of PINK1 in rodent brain

Flint Beal, MD
WeillMedicalCollege of CornellUniversity
Novel Therapeutic Approaches for Parkinson’s Disease

Anders Björklund, MD, PhD
Lund University, Sweden
The role of serotonin neurons in the induction and maintenance of dyskinesias in grafted and L-Dopa-primed animals

Angela Cenci-Nilsson, MD, PhD
Lund University, Sweden
Neoangiogenesis and Blood-Brain Barrier in L-DOPA-induced Dyskinesia

James Connor, PhD
A Novel Animal Model to Identify the Contribution of Iron Mismanagement to Neurotoxicity and alpha-synuclein deposition in Basal Ganglia

Marina Emborg, MD, PhD
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Activation of Nrf2 neuroprotective pathways for Parkinson’s disease

Raul Gainetdinov, MD
Evaluation of the role of trace amine 1 (TA1) receptor in the actions of antiparkinsonian drugs using TA1 receptor knockout mice

Francois Gonon, PhD
University of Bordeaux, France
Role of corticostriatal neurons in provoking the imbalance between the direct and indirect striatal output pathways after dopaminergic degeneration

Tong Joh, PhD
WeillMedicalCollege of CornellUniversity
Pathogenesis of PD in alpha-synuclein cleavage by matrix metalloproteinase-3

Chenjian Li, PhD
WeillMedicalCollege of CornellUniversity
Park8 Mouse Models and LRRK2 Kinase Substrates

Susan McConnell, PhD
Guidance of Midbrain Dopaminergic Neurons in Development and Disease

Gregory Petsko, DPhil
Specific inhibition of nucleation of alpha-synuclein aggregation as a therapeutic strategy

Horst Simon, PhD
University of Heidelberg, Germany
K-ATP channels and their role in the survival of nigral dopaminergic neurons

Stephen Traynelis, PhD
Use of NR2D-selective NMDA Receptor Modulators in the Treatment of PD

Baoji Xu, PhD
Nigrostriatal dopaminergic degeneration and alpha-synuclein aggregation in mice with reduced TrkB signaling


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