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The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research Funds Parkinson's Disease Cell Line Projects

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF) announced today that it has awarded nine grants totaling nearly $4.4 million to researchers pursuing the development of a cell line specifically designed to advance the study and treatment of Parkinson's disease (PD). The awards double the funding amount originally committed to the research initiative, and will fund nine stem cell projects in the United States and Sweden.

The desired cell lines, or self-regenerating colony of cells, would meet a number of pre-determined criteria of the mid-brain dopamine-producing neurons lost in PD. If such cell lines are developed, they will be made available to scientists worldwide to accelerate research in one of the most promising potential PD treatments.

"This is exactly what we set out to do," said Michael J. Fox, "identify specific ways to accelerate research and provide resources to those scientists who can do the work."

MJFF and two private funders initially committed $2.2 million to the PD Cell Line program. On the strength of the applications received, MJFF expanded the program budget to $4.4 million; increasing its own contribution from $1 million to $2.2 million and recruiting additional support from two anonymous donors. The portfolio includes projects utilizing stem cells from a variety

of sources (including rodent cells, primate cells, and embryonic, fetal, and adult human cells) in laboratory tests as well as testing their ability to treat PD symptoms in experimental models. Concurrent funding of these projects allows ongoing comparison to determine the most effective PD cell lines for possible use in cell replacement therapies.

"The number and quality of the applications we received compelled us to commit more funding," said Deborah W. Brooks, MJFF executive director. "The diverse portfolio enables comparison of the most promising cell sources and techniques, and reinforces our confidence that exciting new Parkinson's treatments will soon be available."

While cell transplantation therapy may be the ultimate use of cells resulting from this initiative, many avenues of PD research will benefit from an available source of dopaminergic cells. Researchers will be aided in studying the causes of PD, 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.

"This is an exciting array of grants covering virtually all promising research avenues to developing cell lines for the treatment of Parkinson disease," said MJFF's Chief Scientific Advisor J. William Langston, MD. "We are funding some of the premier labs in the world, including some new to Parkinson's, and creating one of the best opportunities I know of to make cell transplantation therapy a reality for patients," he added.

The grants have been awarded to seven research teams in the United States and two in Sweden whose proposals topped a distinguished international pool of 41 applicants. Each application underwent a rigorous two-tiered peer-review process, culminating at a final grant review meeting held December 7, 2001 in New York City.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research is pleased to award grants to the following researchers (listed in alphabetical order):

Ernest Arenas, MD, PhD and Patrik Ernfors, PhD
Karolinska Institute
Stockholm, Sweden
Project Title: "Development of a Stem Cell Replacement Therapy for Parkinson's Disease: Induction of Midbrain Dopaminergic Neurons from Embryonic Stem Cells"

Anders Bjorklund, MD and Olle Lindvall, MD, PhD
University of Lund
Lund, Sweden
Project Title: "Generation of Functional Dopamine Neurons of Human Origin for Grafting in Parkinson's Disease"

Ira B. Black, MD
The Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey
Piscataway, New Jersey
Project Title: "Development and Utilization of Dopaminergic Cell Lines for the Treatment of Parkinson's Disease"

Fred H. Gage, PhD
The Salk Institute for Biological Sciences
La Jolla, California
Project Title: "Development and Characterization of Adult Substantia Nigra-Derived Neural Progenitor Cells"

Steve Goldman, MD, PhD
Weill Medical College of Cornell University
New York, New York
Project Title: "Establishing Stable Lines of Human Nigral Dopaminergic Progenitor Cells"

Jeffrey H. Kordower, PhD
Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center
Chicago, Illinois

Ronald D. McKay, PhD
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Bethesda, Maryland
Project Title: "Dopamine Neurons Derived from Human Embryonic Stem Cells"

Lorenz Studer, MD
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
New York, New York
Project Title: "Unlimited Numbers of Purified Midbrain Dopamine Neurons from Human Embryonic Stem Cells"

Clive N. Svendsen, PhD
University of Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin
Project Title: "Genetic Modification and Banking of Human Neural Stem Cell Lines for Parkinson's Disease"

Su-Chun Zhang, MD, PhD and James A. Thomson, PhD
University of Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin
Project Title: "Generation of Transplantable Dopamine Neurons from Human Embryonic Stem Cells"

The PD cell line program was launched September 7, 2001, as the principal recommendation of a MJFF-sponsored meeting to assess the status and potential of cell-based therapies for PD. Co-chaired by Dr. Langston, the August 6, 2001 workshop, "Cell Replacement Therapies for Parkinson's Disease," included a select group of renowned cell biologists, neurologists, and neurosurgeons with expertise in PD and other neurological disorders.

The $4.4 million program budget is comprised of a $2.2 million commitment from MJFF, two anonymous gifts totaling $2.0 million, and a $200,000 gift from The Parkinson Alliance.

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