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The Michael J. Fox Foundation Funds $2 Million to Solve Midbrain System Mysteries

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) announced today that it has awarded approximately $2.1 million to fund 10 research projects studying the molecular and cellular signals that produce and maintain the midbrain dopaminergic system that degenerates in Parkinson’s disease. The awards were funded in part through a grant from the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation.

 The Foundation launched this initiative in October 2003 in order to better understand the development of dopaminergic neurons and their relationship to the entire brain circuitry network. Understanding how the dopamine system develops and functions will shed light on the causes of PD and is an essential step toward progress in therapeutic strategies, most notably cell replacement.

“We have learned a great deal from recent research on embryonic stem cells, but we don’t know yet how to transplant them successfully so that they integrate into the brain long-term as stable, functioning dopaminergic neurons,” said Theo Palmer, PhD, assistant professor of neurology at Stanford and a member of MJFF’s Scientific Advisory Board.  “These projects seek to fill current gaps in understanding the molecular cues essential for the development, maintenance, survival and viability of dopamine neurons—whether they are a patient’s own neurons or those derived from stem cells,” Dr. Palmer noted.

“Each grant recipient was chosen because their study promises to dissect a different signal that instructs or maintains a brain circuit,” explained Deborah W. Brooks, executive director, MJFF.  “If successful, each project will supply a different piece of the puzzle, helping us translate these findings into meaningful patient therapies.”

The following is a complete list of researchers who were awarded grants for The Michael J. Fox Foundation Specification, Patterning and Maintenance of Midbrain Dopaminergic Systems in the Normal and Parkinsonian Brain initiative:

Anders Bjorklund, MD, PhD and Thomas Perlmann, PhD                  
Lund University
Role of Nurr-1 in Survival, Maintenance & Function of Midbrain Dopamine Neurons: Implications for Disease Intervention & Therapy for PD” 

Ted Dawson, MD, PhD
Johns HopkinsUniversitySchool of Medicine
Generation & Characterization of Mice with Inducible & Cell-Type Specific Interruption of GDNF Signaling

Sheng Ding, PhD
he Scripps Research Institute
Small Molecules That Promote Regeneration of Dopaminergic Neurons from Human Neural Stem Cells

Johan Ericson, PhD  and Thomas Perlmann, PhD
Karolinska Institute
Identification of Novel Determinants for Dopamine Neuron Generation in Vivo & Embryonic Stem Cells

Dong-Youn Hwang, PhD
McLean Hospital & HarvardMedicalSchool
Role of Pitx3 in the Development of Midbrain DA Neurons

Ann Marie Janson, MD, PhD
arolinska Institute
Studies on Endogenous Neurogenesis in the Adult Mammalian Substantia Nigra

Gerd Kempermann, MD                 
Max DelbruckCenter for Molecular Medicine, Berlin-Buch
Role of Neural Precursor Cells of Ventricular Wall Origin in Endogenous Plasticity in Animal Models of PD

Susan McConnell, PhD and Marc Tessier-Lavigne, PhD
Stanford University
Identification of Axon Guidance Molecules Relevant to the Midbrain Dopaminergic System

David Park, PhD and Antonio Colavita, PhD
University of Ottawa
Genetic Screening & Functional Analysis of Factors Regulating Dopaminergic Development & Survival in C. Elegans & Mammalian Systems

Horst Simon, PhD
niversity of Heidelberg
Analysis of the Progressive Postnatal Loss of Nigral Dopaminergic Neurons in Engrailed Mutant Mice

The program is one element of the Foundation’s aggressive research agenda aimed at finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease.

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