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Michael J. Fox Foundation Awards $2 Million to Continue Search for Biomarkers of Parkinson’s Disease

NEWYORK, NY— The Michael J. Fox Foundation today announced $2 million in grants awarded under the third round of Biomarkers, its annual funding program dedicated to developing objective biomarkers, or “biological fingerprints,” of Parkinson’s disease.

“Biomarkers remain a priority for the Foundation because the ability to definitively diagnose PD and to measure its progression is inextricably linked to the ability to conduct better, faster clinical trials.  In particular, biomarkers would greatly accelerate the development of neuroprotective therapies that could slow or stop the disease, something of tremendous importance to PD patients and our Foundation,” said Katie Hood, chief executive officer of MJFF.

In keeping with the Foundation’s commitment to keep highly promising research moving forward as efficiently as possible, four of five projects under the 2007 initiative are extensions of projects that showed distinct promise when they were funded in earlier rounds of the Biomarkers program.   

A team at DiaGenic ASA in Norway, under the leadership of Anders Lonneborg, PhD, will explore gene expression as an early detector of Parkinson’s, building on exciting discoveries by past Biomarkers awardee Clemens Scherzer, PhD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. Scherzer developed a set of gene expression markers from blood of PD patients that hold potential to be further developed into a simple blood test for Parkinson’s. The new project will expand the work of Dr. Scherzer’s original project, analyzing 500 genes previously found to be differentially expressed in PD blood. The aim is to distill results into a smaller set of markers. These markers will be tested for their ability to distinguish PD from healthy and other neurological disease controls.

Norbert Schuff, PhD, of Northern California Institute for Research and Education will lead a study that aims to establish objective markers of Parkinson’s disease based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that allow accurate disease detection and reliable assessment of progression and response to treatment. Dr. Schuff will examine several MRI-based markers that measure tissue structure, blood flow, nerve fibers and brain iron levels to determine whether a pattern of such markers is diagnostic for PD or its progression.

The following is a complete list of researchers funded under Biomarkers 2007. Grant abstracts and researcher bios are available on the Foundation’s Web site,

  • “Prospective Validation of Risk Markers for the Development of Parkinson’s Disease”
    Daniela Berg, MD, Neurology and Hertie-Institute of Clinical Brain Research, Germany
  • “A Gene Expression Signature for the Early Detection of Parkinson’s disease”

Anders Lonneborg, PhD, DiaGenic ASA, Norway

  • “Multi-center Validation of CSF Alpha-Synuclein in Parkinson’s, Dementia with Lewy Bodies and Prion Disease”
    Michael Schlossmacher, MD,  FRCPC, University of Ottawa, Canada
  • “Multimodal MRI Markers for Parkinson’s Disease”

Norbert Schuff, PhD, Northern California Institute for Research and Education

  • “Isoforms of Alpha-Synuclein as Biomarkers for Diagnosis and Progression of Parkinson’s Disease”

Jing Zhang, MD, PhD, University of Washington

The Michael J. Fox Foundation has been a field leader in spearheading the search for a PD biomarker, with approximately $8.5 million in biomarker research funded to date.

Biomarkers 2007 is made possible with leadership support from The Michael J. Fox Foundation’s Board of Directors and Virginia Brooks. Additional support has been provided by the South Palm Beach Chapter NPF.

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