NEWYORK, NY — The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research today announced that it has awarded $1 million in supplemental funding to five investigators to push forward promising results of work funded under the Foundation’s Community Fast Track 2005 program.
“Community Fast Track allows the Foundation to quickly and effectively vet ‘out-of-the-box’ strategies for improving the treatment or diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease,” said Sarah Orsay, the Foundation’s CEO. “The program was designed to serve some of MJFF’s most deeply held values: the exploration of promising but untested approaches to Parkinson’s disease, our emphasis on accountability, and our commitment to keeping promising science moving forward quickly.”
Community Fast Track was structured to fund one-year projects exploring novel approaches to PD research, with supplemental funding available if researchers met specific predetermined milestones and outlined a practical plan to address the next steps. To receive continued funding, researchers who met their milestones were also required to demonstrate an emphasis on translating their initial findings into potentially meaningful approaches for improving available Parkinson’s treatments.
Two separate research teams at LundUniversity in Sweden are continuing investigations into novel aspects of the development of dyskinesias (the disruptive movements that are one of the most disabling complications of long-term dopamine replacement therapies):
- A team led by Anders Björklund, MD, PhD, previously found that serotonin neurons play a role in dyskinesia. Dr. Björklund now seeks to show that these neurons may underlie a special kind of dyskinesia, also seen in some patients who received transplants of fetal brain tissue in trials conducted some years ago; occurrence of these so-called graft-induced dyskinesias were a major factor that halted the trials.
- Another team, led by Angela Cenci-Nilsson, MD, PhD, is following up on initial observations that levodopa-induced dyskinesia results in part from alterations in brain blood vessel growth and integrity. She is receiving a grant supplement to directly test her hypothesis by using drugs that alter blood vessel growth and investigating how this impacts development of dyskinesias.
Two projects seek to obtain data that can help translate understanding of Parkinson’s disease-associated proteins alpha-synuclein and LRRK2 into novel neuroprotective strategies. Both of these molecules’ roles in the onset and progression of Parkinson’s disease are the subject of intense study, but neither’s is fully understood:
- Gregory Petsko, PhD, of BrandeisUniversity, working in yeast, previously found several enzymes that chop up alpha-synuclein into smaller toxic fragments; his next steps are to seek to identify the human versions of these enzymes.
- Chenjian Li, PhD, of Weill Medical College of Cornell University has generated a mouse model of LRRK2. He will use his supplemental funding to examine specific cellular pathways that might be affected by the protein, with implications for the onset and/or progression of PD.
A team led by Stephen Traynelis, PhD, of EmoryUniversity developed a screening test for identifying compounds that act at the NR2D subtype of the NMDA receptor, which has shown promise as a target for the development of a new symptomatic therapy for
Parkinson’s disease. With his screen now up and running, Dr. Traynelis will look for potential compounds worth developing further into possible drugs.
Close To A Cure, a Charlotte-based fund within the Foundation for the Carolinas, will donate $125,000 to the Foundation to fund Dr. Traynelis’ research. Close To A Cure is committed to finding a cure for Parkinson's disease by funding specific research initiatives at Duke, Emory, and other leading medical centers. For information about Close To A Cure, visit www.closetoacure.org.
Grant abstracts and researcher bios are available on the Foundation’s Web site, www.michaeljfox.org.