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The Michael J. Fox Foundation Awards $1.6 Million to Research Biomarker for Parkinson's Disease

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) announced today that it has awarded $1.6 million to fund eight research projects for the development or validation of a diagnostic test, also known as a biomarker, for Parkinson’s disease (PD).  The Foundation launched its Biomarker Initiative in April 2002, calling for applications from scientists to research this vital issue in Parkinson’s disease.

“Development of biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease would dramatically accelerate the understanding of how Parkinson’s disease progresses as well as research on its etiology,” explained Dr. William Langston, MD, CEO of the Parkinson’s Institute and MJFF chief scientific advisor.  “There is a substantial rate of incorrect diagnosis, particularly in the earliest stages of the illness.  There is wide agreement among the scientific community that the absence of biomarkers is a major barrier in our advancement toward finding the cause and cure.  Other groups interested in Parkinson’s research, including the National Institutes of Health, will be following these studies closely.”

At present, there is no definitive diagnostic test for PD and clinical diagnosis is based on a patient’s medical history and neurological examination.  The misdiagnosis rate is estimated to be as high as 25 percent. While The Michael J. Fox Foundation designed the initiative to encourage the development of multiple types of biomarkers, applications were reviewed with sensitivity toward characteristics that would allow the biomarker to be easily reproduced and translated to clinical practice. 

From an international pool of 78 applicants, five proposals were fully funded.   An additional three proposals were awarded one-year, $50,000 pilot grants to bolster their research efforts.   Pilot grants are a new funding mechanism from the Fox Foundation designed to cultivate promising scientific ideas that require additional preliminary data before qualifying for full funding support. 

“With this initiative we wanted to cast a wide net and encourage innovative approaches to a very specific scientific question,” explained Debi Brooks, executive director of The Michael J. Fox Foundation. “At the same time we also considered projects that could have the most immediate impact on the 50,000 new Parkinson’s patients diagnosed each year.  Some features taken into consideration included whether the research would produce a diagnostic tool with a low per-usage cost, and the ability to be widely available at treatment centers across geographic locations.”

In addition to The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation contributed $250,000 to this program, which awarded grants to the following researchers: 

M. Flint Beal, MD
WeillMedicalCollege of Cornell University, NYPresbyterianHospital
New York, NY
Project Title: “Metabolomic Profiling to Develop Biomarkers for PD”

Matt Farrer, PhD
Mayo Clinic
Jacksonville, FL
Project Title: “Assessing the Role of x-Synuclein, a Biomarker for PD”

Thomas R. Guilarte, PhD
JohnsHopkinsUniversity, BloombergSchool of Public Health
Baltimore, MD
Project Title: “Peripheral Benzodiazepine Receptor:  An In Vivo Biomarker of PD”

Steven R. Gullans, PhD
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Cambridge, MA
Project Title: “Simple Blood Tests for PD Derived from Genome-wide Expression Changes”

Michael G. Schlossmacher, MD
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Cambridge, MA
Project Title: “Characterization of Alpha Synuclein in Human Fluids and Brain as Biomarker for PD”

Pilot Grants
Matthew P. Galloway, PhD
WayneStateUniversitySchool of Medicine
Detroit, MI
Project Title: “Ultra High Field MRS Assessment of MPTP, Rotenone, & BSO Effects in Rodents” 

Rolf Gruetter, PhD
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN
Project Title: “Non-Invasive Markers of Oxidative Stress in Human Brain” 

Peter A. LeWitt, MD
William Beaumont Hospital Research Institute
Royal Oak
Project Title: “State & Trait Markers for PD in CSF, Plasma, & Urine from Datatop”

The biomarker initiative is a direct outcome of discussions held during MJFF’s ongoing series of strategic scientific meetings to assess potential high-impact areas of Parkinson’s research and determine how MJFF can most effectively advance the state of the science.  Several of these meetings underscored the need for and potential benefits of a PD biomarker, and MJFF is leading the effort to stimulate research and development. 

The Biomarker program is one element of the Foundation’s research agenda to eliminate Parkinson’s disease within the decade.  At the end of 2002, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research funded more than $18 million in research aimed at finding a cure for the disease.  In addition, the Foundation partnered with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on their funding of an incremental $9.5 million in “Fast Track” research projects.

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