The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF) is leading a $2.2 million research initiative to produce a cell line specifically designed to advance the study and treatment of Parkinson's disease.
The desired cell line, or self-replicating colony of cells, would meet a number of pre-determined criteria of the mid-brain dopamine-producing neurons. These neurons are the type of nerve cells lost in Parkinson's disease -- a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder affecting more than one million Americans. Once developed, the cell line will be made available to Parkinson's researchers worldwide.
“We are very excited about this proposal, which has been carefully thought out and aims to provide a significant boost to Parkinson's research,” said J. William Langston, MD, Chief Scientific Advisor to the MJFF and Scientific Director of the Parkinson's Institute. “The availability of cells specifically tailored for Parkinson's disease will stimulate even more interest and activity in the field.”
This unprecedented cell line initiative is one result of a strategic meeting the MJFF convened to assess the status and potential of cell-based therapies for Parkinson's. Co-chaired by Dr. Langston and the Salk Institute's Fred Gage, PhD, the “Cell Replacement Therapies for Parkinson's Disease” workshop included a select group of renowned cell biologists, neurologists, and neurosurgeons with expertise in Parkinson's and other neurological disorders. The meeting was the first in a series of research workshops that will assess potential high-impact areas of Parkinson's research and determine how the MJFF can best advance the state of the science.
“The Foundation seeks to take targeted actions that accelerate the search for a Parkinson's cure,” said Deborah W. Brooks, the MJFF's Executive Director. “With expert guidance from our scientific advisors, we feel this initiative represents a dramatic step forward.”
The initiative's focus is on the distinct qualities and performance of the cell line, not the source of the original cells. Proposals involving all types of cells -- including adult, fetal, and embryonic human stem cells -- are eligible for funding. Awards will be based on the scientific merit of the application.
While cell transplantation therapy may be the ultimate use of cells resulting from this initiative, many avenues of Parkinson's research will benefit from an available source of dopaminergic cells. Researchers will be aided in studying the causes of Parkinson's, developing appropriate models relevant to understanding and treating the disease, and producing innovative strategies to prevent, limit, or reverse the process of neuronal degeneration. A consistent source of identical cells will also increase the ability to compare data from various projects.
The $2.2 million award is comprised of a $1 million commitment from the MJFF, a $1 million contribution from an anonymous donor, and $200,000 from the Parkinson Alliance.