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Michael J. Fox Foundation Awards Approximately $2 Million for Four Parkinson's Clinical Studies

NEWYORK, NY -- The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) announced today that it has awarded approximately $2 million to researchers to carry out four clinical studies under its recently launched Clinical Discovery Program. The Clinical Discovery Program is intended to stimulate well-designed clinical research projects focused on potentially high-impact approaches to the field of Parkinson’s disease. Funding for the program was made possible by a gift from The Pioneer Fund, a private family foundation that supports endeavors including medical research.

“The Fox Foundation’s innovative approach to accelerating a cure for Parkinson’s reflects the pioneering spirit of our founder, philanthropist Helen M. McLoraine,” said Scott Hamilton, Olympic gold medalist and Pioneer Fund Board member. “We are impressed that The Michael J. Fox Foundation is a lean organization that has chosen not to build an endowment, but instead to disperse the money they raise quickly to researchers on the front line.”

The Pioneer Fund is a private family foundation established by Helen M. McLoraine, a pioneer who broke new ground for women by assuming leadership roles in the oil and gas business in the 1950s. Influenced by her mother, Mrs. McLoraine established The Pioneer Fund to continue her lifelong support of projects and organizations that focus on medical research, education and social welfare. As a philanthropist, Mrs. McLoraine also supported more than 50 amateur skaters including Scott Hamilton.

Currently, there is limited funding available for researchers to carry out small–to–medium sized innovative clinical research projects applying current knowledge regarding Parkinson’s disease directly to patients and patient care.

“The Foundation is working to bridge the disparity that exists between scientists who don’t have the resources to validate their hypotheses in the clinic and industry that has no incentive to support projects before a hypothesis is validated because it’s too much of a risk,” said Deborah W. Brooks, president and chief executive officer of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. “We’ve taken a strategic look at roadblocks to new therapies and this was one of several areas where we think we can make a difference.”

The Foundation awarded a grant to a team in China to carry out the first-ever multi-center, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study to investigate the safety, tolerability and potential neuroprotective effects of green tea polyphenols in people with Parkinson’s disease. The team will work in collaboration with Foundation Scientific Advisory Board member Caroline M. Tanner, MD, PhD who has extensive clinical expertise. If successful, the study could lead to the development of an inexpensive, non-pharmaceutical therapy to slow or stop the progression of the disease. Green tea polyphenols are natural anti-oxidants found in green tea and used in many countries for the treatment of heart disease and cancer. The study will enroll approximately 400 people with early stage Parkinson’s disease. A network of Parkinson’s research centers and the Chinese Ministry of Health will collaborate on the project.

Another grant recipient will test a novel strength training technique to improve respiration and swallowing in people who have developed dysphagia, a common condition experienced by people with Parkinson’s disease that occurs when the muscles that are involved in swallowing weaken or do not work properly. People with dysphagia have trouble swallowing and are at increased risk of inhaling food or liquids into the airways, which can lead to a condition known as “aspiration pneumonia” -- the leading cause of death in people with Parkinson’s.

Given that currently there are no treatments for dysphagia, this pilot study has the potential to have an immediate impact on patient care.

Two other teams are using Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging in novel ways to quantify changes in the brain associated with the onset of Parkinson’s disease and co-morbid conditions. One project seeks to quantify reductions in cortical acetylcholinesterase (AChE) activity (cholinergic deficits) that occur in people with Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s-associated dementia. Researchers believe that reductions in AChEs may be responsible for cognitive impairment commonly seen in people with Parkinson’s. Dopaminergic therapies don’t reverse cognitive impairment, suggesting that targeting the cholinergic system could be beneficial. AChEs are currently used to treat people with Alzheimer’s but may be even more valuable for people with Parkinson’s.

The other project will use PET imaging to compare the blood brain barrier of people with Parkinson’s disease to those who do not have the disease. It is hypothesized that biochemical changes that occur in the blood brain barrier of people with Parkinson’s could allow greater accumulation of environmental toxins in the brain. If researchers are able to quantify these changes they may be able to identify people with the disease early and to track disease progression, as well as enable the targeted development of therapies that may restore normal blood brain barrier function.

The Clinical Discovery Program is an investigator-initiated, peer-reviewed program that provides funding for clinical research projects over the course of up to three years. Continuation of funding will be dependent upon the achievement of mutually agreed upon milestones. A scientific review committee consisting of biostatisticians, clinicians, clinical trial experts and others reviewed all applications.

The following is a complete list of researchers who were awarded grants under the Clinical Discovery Program initiative:

Nicolaas I. Bohnen, MD, PhD
University of Pittsburgh
Executive, ADL and Cholinergic Functions in PD

Piu Chan, MD, PhD
XuanwuHospital of CapitalUniversity of Medical Sciences
A Randomized, Double-blind, and Placebo-control Study to Assess the Ability of Slowing Disease Progression and Safety and Tolerability of Green Tea Polyphenols in Patients With Early Parkinson’s Disease

K.L. Leenders, MD, PhD
University Medical Centre Groningen
P-glycoprotein Dysfunction of the Blood-brain Barrier in Parkinson’s Disease

Christine Sapienza, PhD
University of Florida
Strength Training Patients With Parkinson’s Disease for Dysphagia

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