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The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research Awards Over $2 Million to Study Role of Protein Degradation in Parkinson's

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) announced today that it has awarded 11 grants totaling over $2.6 million to researchers investigating the role of protein degradation in Parkinson’s disease.  The Foundation exceeded its original $2 million commitment to the initiative in response to the number of high caliber projects proposed by an international pool of 57 applicants.

“We are pleased to be able to commit additional funding to this program, which examines a key mechanism underlying Parkinson’s disease,” said Deborah Brooks, MJFF executive director.  “This initiative adds to our diverse research portfolio, which strategically targets those high-impact areas where the Foundation can significantly advance the state of the science.”

There is a growing body of evidence that degenerative diseases of the central nervous system are characterized by the over-accumulation of abnormal protein deposits. The Foundation hopes that proactively studying why this potentially harmful aggregation of proteins occurs with a particular focus on the way they can be broken down and removed will lead to the development of neuroprotective therapies for PD patients. 

“These research grants will investigate one of the fundamental aspects of the disease,” said J. William Langston, MD, CEO of the Parkinson’s Institute and MJFF chief scientific advisor.  “These projects will study key proteins involved in Parkinson’s disease, exploring ways that the normal degradation of certain proteins becomes disrupted, and how that process can be prevented or corrected.  This research could lead to new models of the process of neurodegeneration, and we anticipate that the outcomes will have great relevance not only to Parkinson’s disease, but to Alzheimer’s and ALS research as well.”

The Protein Degradation program was launched in June 2002 as a direct outcome of an ongoing series of strategic priority workshops. These workshops bring together the MJFF Scientific Advisory Board with other leading experts to assess and recommend specific areas of inquiry where the Foundation can stimulate progress in Parkinson’s disease research.

Each application underwent a rigorous, two-tiered peer review process, culminating in a final grant review meeting in late October. Grant recipients represent five different countries including Australia, Sweden, Canada, and Switzerland, as well as the U.S., where seven of the winners are based.

The following is a complete list of researchers who were awarded grants for The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research Protein Degradation initiative:

Patrick Aebischer, MD
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne (EPFL)
Lausanne, Switzerland
Project Title: “Lenitviral Mediated Effect of Chaperones & Parkin in a Genetic Model of Parkinson's Disease” 

Guy A. Caldwell, PhD
The University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Project Title: “RNAi Screening & Analysis of Factors Influencing ER-Associated Degradation & Alpha-Synuclein Aggregation in C. Elegans” 

Orla Conneely, PhD
Baylor College of Medicine
Houston, Texas
Project Title: “Regulation of Nurr1 Nuclear Receptor Transcriptional Activity by the Ubiquitin Proteasome System” 

Edward A. Fon, MD, FRCP
Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University
Montreal, Canada
Project Title: “Parkin-Mediated Ubiquitination at the Synapse”

Wei-Ping Gai, PhD
Flinders University
South Australia
Project Title: “Ubiquitin Conjugates in Parkinson's Disease & Dementia with Lewy Bodies” 

Deniz Kirik, MD, PhD
Lund University
Lund, Sweden
Project Title: “In Vivo Functional & Molecular Studies in a New Model of Parkinson's Disease Generated Using Viral Vectors to Deliver Human Alpha-synuclein”

Seung-Jae Lee, PhD
The Parkinson’s Institute
Sunnyvale, California
Project Title: “Role of Autophagy-Lysosomal Pathway in the Degradation of Alpha-synuclein Aggregates” 

Richard Palmiter, PhD
Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Washington
Seattle, Washington
Project Title: “Proteomic Analysis of Accumulated Proteins in Dopaminergic Neurons Using a Mouse Model of Ubiquitin-proteasome System Dysfunction” 

Leondardo Petrucelli, PhD
Mayo Clinic
Jacksonville, Florida
Project Title: “Parkin Substrates, Synuclein & Tau & Their Role in the Proteasome Function” 

John Q. Trojanowski, MD, PhD
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Project Title: “Elucidation of the Role of Parkin in the Ubiquitin-Proteasome Degradation Pathway in Parkinson's Disease” 

Peter Werner, PhD
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Bronx, New York
Project Title: “Characterization of Midbrain Dopaminergic Neurons in a Proteasome-transgenic Mouse”

The Protein Degradation program is one element of the Foundation’s research agenda to eliminate Parkinson’s disease within the decade.  At the end of 2002, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research had funded more than $17 million in research aimed at finding a cure for the disease.  In addition, the Foundation partnered with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on their funding of an incremental $9.5 million in “Fast Track” research projects.

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