The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF) announces a $2 million research initiative to develop or validate conclusive diagnostic tests, or "biomarkers", for Parkinson's disease. There is currently no definitive lab or behavior test to diagnose Parkinson's -- a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder affecting over one million Americans and millions more worldwide.
MJFF is requesting investigator-initiated proposals to study or identify potential biomarkers for the onset and progression of Parkinson's. The initiative seeks novel approaches and also invites applications for pilot projects designed to obtain preliminary data that may lead to larger future projects.
"We're swinging for the fences, hoping to hit a home run," said Michael J. Fox. "A true diagnostic test would deliver huge benefits for patients, physicians, and researchers."
The development of biomarkers could have several major benefits, including but not limited to:
- Identification of at-risk individuals, which may be especially important as preventive or neuroprotective strategies are developed;
- Pre-clinical or early diagnosis, which is important for interventional clinical trials and epidemiological studies;
- Monitoring disease progression, in an area in which there is a pressing need for objective markers other than clinical evaluation. This may be especially important for therapeutic trials of neuroprotective agents;
- Improved diagnostic accuracy, which is essential to decrease the statistical error rate in clinical trials and epidemiological studies.
Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease each year. Lacking a definitive biological test, clinical diagnoses are based on patients' medical history and detailed neurological and physical examinations. The misdiagnosis rate is estimated at 20 percent.
"With no certain way of diagnosing Parkinson's disease during life, finding a biologic test for the disorder is one of the most critical needs in Parkinson's disease research today" said J. William Langston, MD, Scientific Director of the Parkinson's Institute and Chief Scientific Advisor to the MJFF. "A biomarker would have an immediate and powerful impact on such wide ranging research areas as clinical trials for the disease to epidemiological studies on its cause."
The biomarker initiative is a direct outcome of discussions held during MJFF's ongoing series of strategic scientific meetings to assess potential high-impact areas of Parkinson's research and determine how the MJFF can most effectively advance the state of the science. Several of these meetings underscored the need for and potential benefits of a PD biomarker, and MJFF is leading the effort to stimulate research and development. The Parkinson's Disease Foundation is contributing to this program.
"We believe we have committed sufficient resources to attract and develop new and innovative diagnostic strategies," said Deborah W. Brooks, the MJFF's Executive Director. "Moreover, others interested in Parkinson's research, including the National Institutes of Health, will be following the progress of this program."
The $2 million in available funding is composed of a $1.75 million commitment from the MJFF and a $250,000 donation from the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.