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Michael J. Fox Foundation Awards $1.7 Million to Optimize and Leverage Brain/Body Donation Program at Banner Sun Health Research Institute

NEWYORK, NY — The Michael J. Fox Foundation announced $1.7 million in funding to drive new and continuing Parkinson’s research projects at the Banner Sun Health Research Institute and Mayo Clinic Arizona, sites of the Arizona Parkinson’s Disease Consortium. Of the total funding, $1.1 million represents renewed funding for directed projects led by principal investigators Charles Adler, MD, PhD, at Mayo Clinic Arizona and Thomas Beach, MD, PhD, at Banner Sun Health Research Institute. This funding will allow Drs. Adler and Beach to continue projects initially launched in 2006 under MJFF’s three-year, $2.8 million Prescott Family Initiative at the Arizona Parkinson’s Disease Consortium.

The remaining $600,000 will fund four collaborations with external experts. These collaborations are designed to leverage the Brain and Body Donation Program’s (BBDP) wealth of clinical and neuropathological samples and establish links between the underlying pathology and outward clinical features of Parkinson’s disease.

Renewed Funding to Continue Optimizing the BBDP
Drs. Adler and Beach are working to increase enrollment of PD subjects in the BBDP, increase external investigators’ access to clinical and neuropathological data, and further refine statistical models used to study the development of PD or cognitive decline in PD. 

Especially promising outcomes from the Prescott Family Initiative to date include a detailed description of mild cognitive impairment in PD, the identification of incidental Lewy body disease as a probable pre-clinical stage of PD, development of statistical models for the development of PD and for dementia in PD, demonstration of the diagnostic potential of olfactory bulb biopsy, publication of an improved pathological staging system for PD and the first detailed mapping of Lewy body-related pathology in the spinal cord and peripheral nervous system.

New Funding to Leverage BBDP for Collaborations with External Research Teams
The new funding of $600,000 is being made under the Foundation’s Clinicopathological Correlations of Parkinson’s Disease program, expressly designed to drive Parkinson’s labs throughout the world to undertake projects that would benefit from the pristine and unusually well-characterized samples available through Banner Sun Health Research Institute’s BBDP.

Two separate teams will search for biomarkers of Parkinson’s disease. Biomarkers are physiological characteristics that can be objectively measured and evaluated by medical researchers. These definitive signposts of cellular or molecular processes are critical to drug development; without a biomarker, it is impossible to definitively test for the presence or progression of disease, or assess physiological response to a given therapy. To date, no biomarker of Parkinson’s disease has been found. 

  • Peter LeWitt, MD, M.Med.Sc., of Henry Ford Hospital will employ a state-of-the-art research technique known as metabolomic analysis, which separates chemical compounds present in minute quantities in the body. His team will search spinal fluid samples to determine whether specific purine compounds (by-products of dopamine synthesis) can differentiate Parkinson’s disease patients from healthy controls.
  • Shunbin Xu, MD, PhD, of Rush University Medical Center will look for microRNAs — newly recognized molecules of the cell that play important roles in normal cellular functions as well as disease  — that have undergone significant changes in the spinal fluid of people with Parkinson’s disease.

The other teams will focus on gastrointestinal symptoms of Parkinson’s and the PD-implicated protein alpha-synuclein.

  • Jim Greene, MD, PhD, of EmoryUniversity will work to speed development of treatments for gastrointestinal symptoms of Parkinson’s disease by studying abnormalities in tissue samples taken from the enteric nervous system, a semi-independent network of nerves lining the digestive tract.
  • Kalpana Merchant, PhD, of Eli Lilly and Co. will study alpha-synuclein in brain tissue samples. While clumping of the alpha-synuclein protein is a pathological hallmark of Parkinson’s, this is one of the first attempts to systematically characterize the types of changes the protein undergoes in normal and disease states, and how it differs between the healthy and Parkinson’s brain. The researchers will also work to characterize different forms of alpha-synuclein and how these may correlate to different clinical features of Parkinson’s disease.

The 2006 Prescott Family Initiative at the Arizona Parkinson’s Disease Consortium was made possible by a leadership donation by Judi and George Prescott and their family. Mr. Prescott is Chairman of the Foundation’s Board of Directors.


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