NEWYORK, NY — The Michael J. Fox Foundation today announced a $2.8-million, three-year collaborative initiative with The Arizona Parkinson’s Disease Consortium (APDC), a group of six research institutions including Mayo Clinic in Arizona and Sun Health Research Institute. The Prescott Family Initiative at the Arizona Parkinson’s Disease Consortium will support and expand APDC’s work with the Sun Health Research Institute’s Brain and Body Donation Program, which conducts in-depth clinical and post-mortem studies of normal-aging adults as well as PD patients. The program has been made possible by a leadership donation from Judi and George Prescott and their family. Mr. Prescott is a member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors and a prominent Wisconsin businessman and philanthropist.
“The Brain and Body Donation Program is a unique resource,” said Deborah W. Brooks, president and CEO of The Michael J. Fox Foundation. “This collaboration will maximize its considerable potential to increase understanding of Parkinson’s disease by comprehensively tying clinical evidence to pathological underpinnings of onset and progression. Our goals are to prioritize the collection of data that can open up new avenues of pursuit for translation, and to ensure that all data gathered is highly accessible to researchers conducting both basic and drug development research.”
The Brain and Body Donation Program was started 19 years ago by Sun Health Research Institute. It currently has more than 780 participants, including both PD patients and healthy control subjects, with an enrollment goal of 1,000 within three years. Participants are evaluated annually by a movement disorders specialist, a behavioral neurologist and a neuropsychologist. All subjects also agree to donation of their brain following death. Some also agree to a full-body autopsy and donation of other bodily organs. The information thus compiled on three distinct subsets — healthy adults; PD patients; and healthy adults who, over the course of their enrollment, experience PD onset — can offer a vivid picture of changes in the brain and the body before, during and after Parkinson’s onset.
The Prescott Family Initiative will optimize The Brain and Body Donation Program through three core areas of research: a clinical core, a neuropathology core and a bioinformatics core.
- The clinical core will implement additions to the current roster of ongoing clinical assessments to drive identification of predictive clinical markers of PD onset as well as progression to dementia. These additions will include assessments of sleep disorders and autonomic dysfunction including constipation.
- The neuropathology core will identify pathological markers of PD in both the peripheral nervous system and the central nervous system, which could allow for earlier diagnosis of PD. This data could also help test the emerging hypothesis that Parkinson’s affects many areas of the central nervous system beyond the substantia nigra, and even extends beyond the boundaries of the central nervous system.
- The bioinformatics core will refine the database housing all data gathered and develop a system that will enable external researchers to access the information. The database will be used to test predictive models of risk for PD onset and risk of onset of dementia in subjects already diagnosed with PD.
“Very few studies to date have compared detailed clinical assessments of both movement and cognition with neuropathological data from normal-aging and PD populations over the long term,” said Thomas Beach, MD, PhD, head of the Civin Laboratory for Neuropathology at Sun Health Research Institute. “Analysis of this longitudinal data holds a great deal of potential, largely untapped, to help answer vital questions about biomarkers, early markers of PD, and PD pathology outside the central nervous system.”
The program will comprise both long-term studies comparing PD patients to healthy controls, and specific clinical and postmortem research to identify motor, non-motor and other manifestations of Parkinson’s as possible early markers of disease onset. Further studies will be done to identify both cognitive and non-cognitive markers of incipient dementia in people with PD. All members of the APDC (which also includes Barrow Neurological Institute, Arizona State University, Banner Health Good Samaritan Medical Centers, and Translational Genomics) jointly participate in the recruitment and clinical assessment of subjects enrolled in the Brain and Body Donation Program, and jointly conduct research involving those subjects.
“The APDC is thrilled to collaborate with The Michael J. Fox Foundation on this unique initiative,” said Charles Adler, MD, PhD, professor of neurology and chair, Mayo Clinic Division of Movement Disorders, who, along with Dr. Beach, is the project’s co-principal investigator. “By maximizing the considerable resources of MJFF and the Consortium, and strategically optimizing the Brain and Body Donation Program’s performance, we are confident that this program could yield key insights for the diagnosis and treatment of PD.”
Given the project’s ambitious scope, the Foundation and the APDC have identified external scientific advisors with the relevant expertise to assist the projects through participation in working groups in each of the three cores. A general advisory committee of Foundation Scientific Advisory Board members has also been convened, and frequent interaction is scheduled between the working groups, the advisory board and the APDC.