At an event celebrating the new collaborative research alliance between The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) and The Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia and Parkinson Foundation (BSDPF), MJFF tonight confers the inaugural Bachmann-Strauss Prize for Excellence in Dystonia Research on Xandra O. Breakefield, PhD, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and geneticist at Massachusetts General Hospital, for groundbreaking discoveries in the field of dystonia genetics.
The gala event at The Pierre Hotel in New York City celebrates the achievements of BSDPF and its founder, Bonnie Strauss, who created the foundation after being diagnosed with dystonia. Dystonia is an under-funded movement disorder and an under-recognized symptom of Parkinson’s disease. Tonight’s event, which also honors advocates and scientists who have advanced dystonia and Parkinson’s research, has raised $1.7 million to date to support dystonia and Parkinson’s research.
“This night is to recognize the many generous friends and scientists who have stood with me, year after year, in supporting critical research,” said Bonnie Strauss. “It is a delight to share this moment with those who have given to our foundation and who join us as we align with The Michael J. Fox Foundation to foster greater collaboration and progress in drug development toward new treatment breakthroughs for dystonia and Parkinson’s.”
Recognizing a Research Pioneer
In creating the annual Bachmann-Strauss Prize for Excellence in Dystonia Research, BSDPF and MJFF seek to acknowledge pioneering researchers for key scientific discoveries and incentivize the next generation of investigators to continue making inroads toward cures.
The inaugural Prize recipient, Xandra Breakefield, PhD, is professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and geneticist at Massachusetts General Hospital where she directs the Laboratory of Experimental Gene Therapy. During the course of a 30-year career studying the genetics of movement disorders, Dr. Breakefield led a team that in 1997 identified the gene responsible for early onset dystonia, which led to better clinical diagnosis. This research was supported in part by BSDPF and also influenced use of deep brain stimulation for early onset patients.
The award is accompanied by an unrestricted research grant of $100,000 to support further research in Dr. Breakefield’s laboratory and will be presented by Michael J. Fox and MJFF CEO Todd Sherer, PhD.
The Prize committee of experts in neuroscience was chaired by Ted Dawson, MD, PhD, the Leonard and Madlyn Abramson Professor of Neurodegenerative Diseases at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“I am deeply moved to be the recipient of the first Bachmann-Strauss Prize for Excellence in Dystonia Research,” said Dr. Breakefield. “I am grateful to MJFF and BSPDF, two organizations that share a deep commitment to patient-centric research, for recognizing the work of my team and for valuing discoveries that hold potential to improve the lives of those living with dystonia and Parkinson’s.”
Celebrating a New Alliance
The alliance between MJFF and BSDPF, first announced in September 2014, builds on a 10-year working relationship between the foundations.
Many important advances in understanding dystonia have come from Parkinson’s research. Some treatments that started in PD have proven effective for dystonia as well, with many of the drugs used to treat Parkinson’s applicable to dystonia and dyskinesia, which is excessive movement caused by long-term dopamine replacement therapy.
As organizations committed to collaboration and whose missions share a great deal of scientific common ground, MJFF and BSDPF have collaborated on major studies, shared scientific advisors and funded many of the same researchers. Some of the experts who helped forge BSDPF’s movement disorder centers of excellence also serve on the MJFF Scientific Advisory Board.
“The Bachmann-Strauss Foundation and its many dedicated supporters have transformed the field of dystonia research,” said Sherer. “Tonight we pay tribute to all they have achieved and look forward with hope to a future in which Parkinson’s and dystonia are things of the past.”