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Parkinson's Groups Team Up to Award Over $4 Million Through Community Fast Track Program

Eight national and local Parkinson’s disease groups teamed together to award approximately $4 million in research grants through the new Community Fast Track research initiative, led by The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF).  The program officially named 18 projects which it will fund over two years through the investigator-initiated program, designed to stimulate novel, innovative and high-impact approaches to the field of Parkinson’s research.

Grant recipients were chosen from a large pool of international applicants assessed on the quality of novel science proposed as well as potential to increase understanding of Parkinson’s and eventually translate findings into patient treatments. Among this year’s awardees, three researchers will be receiving funding specifically to investigate Parkinson’s disease for the first time.  These three grants represent an early success for the program, which aims to attract new scientists from other research fields to study PD.

“Community Fast Track offers a channel through which Parkinson’s groups can contribute to an extremely selective peer-review award process,” explained Deborah W. Brooks, executive director. “This collaboration is distinguished not only by the merit of each individual application funded but also by the power of the Parkinson’s community as a whole to draw new researchers into the field and cultivate them for long-term development.”

Janusz B. Suszkiew, PhD, one of the portfolio’s grant recipients receiving funding for the first time in the field of Parkinson’s disease, will study the effect of nicotine on inflammatory agents within the brain.  Inflammation of brain tissue is widely believed to play an important role in the degeneration of dopamine cells leading to Parkinson’s disease.  He theorizes that nicotine could have long-term neuroprotective effects by acting to suppress inflammation in the brain and provide the basis for development of new drug treatments for PD patients.

Another grantee, Leo J. Pallanck, PhD, hopes to uncover new therapeutic approaches to treat PD through genetic studies of the disease.  He will investigate the genetic factors underlying the toxicity of alpha-synuclein, a protein identified as a primary factor in Parkinson’s. His research will contribute to the explanation of how alpha-synuclein kills dopamine neurons in the human brain, which may ultimately advance development of new Parkinson’s therapies.

“Many of the projects we have chosen are innovative because they ask new questions,” stated Robert E. Burke, MD, Director of Laboratory Research in Parkinson’s Disease and Related Disorders at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center and member of the scientific advisory boards of MJFF and the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. “However, this portfolio includes grants which are equally exciting and potentially groundbreaking because they offer a new perspective to standard questions and approach them from different angles.”

Kimberly Bjugstad, PhD, will revisit the issue of neural tissue transplants for Parkinson’s disease patients, which despite high expectations from the scientific community have not yielded successful therapeutic results in PD patients.  Using rat models of Parkinson’s disease, Dr. Bjugstad will try to rebuild the nigrostratial pathway, the neurociruitry lost in PD patients. She anticipates that a clearer understanding of the reconstruction of this pathway, and development of new grafting techniques, will shed light on why transplants have failed to date.

The following is a complete list of researchers who were awarded grants for The Michael J. Fox Foundation Community Fast Track 2003 initiative:

M. Flint Beal, MD
Weill Medical College of Cornell University
Methionine Sulfoxide Reductase & Parkinson’s Disease Pathogenesis”

Erwan Bezard, PhD
CNRS UMR 5543 – Universite de Bordeaux 2
Multi-single Unit Elextrophsiological Characterization of Dyskinesia Induced by Dopaminetic Drug

Kimberly Bjugstad, PhD
University of Colorado, Health Sciences Center
“Reconstructing the Neural Circuits in Parkinson’s, Using Biodegradable Polymer Bridges or Striatal Co-grafts to Encourage Neural Outgrowth from Transplanted Tissue

Robert Chen, MA, MSc, FRCPC
Toronto Western Hospital, University of Toronto
Effects of Subthalamic Nucleus Stimulation on Sensorimotor Integratiom

Stephanie Cragg, MA, DPhil
University of Oxford
The Regulation of Synaptic Dopamine by Striatal Nicotonic Receptor

Peter Jenner, PhD
King’s College London
Osteopontin as a Regulator of the Inflammatory Response to Nigral Cell Degeneration

Seung-Jae Lee, PhD
The Parkinson’s Institute
Intracellular Trafficking Dysfunction Caused by Alpha-synuclein Aggregation

Eric J. Nestler, MD, PhD
UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas
Role of Delta FOSB in the Development of L dopa-induced Dsykinesia in a Non-human Primate Model of PD

Kalipada Pahan, PhD
University of Nebraska Medical Center
NBD peptides in MPTP Mouse Mode

Leo J. Pallanck, PhD
University of Washington
Analysis of Genetic Factors Influencing Alpha-synuclein

Giulio Maria Pasinetti, MD, PhD
Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Biomarker Discovery in Parkinson’s Disease

Ian J. Reynolds, PhD
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Mitochondrial Trafficking in Dopaminergic Neuron Injur

Michael A. Schwarzschild, MD, PhD
Massachusetts General Hospital
Adenosine A2A Receptors in a Mouse Model of PD Dyskinesia

Michael Sierks, PhD
Arizona State University
Morphology Specific Antibodies as Potential Therapeutic

Janusz B. Suszkiw, PhD
University of Cincinatti College of Medicine
Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Nicotine in PD

Peter Werner, PhD
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Transgenic Mouse Model of Proteosome Dysfunction in PD

Renping Zhou, PhD
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Development of the Midbrain Dopaminergic Pathways

Xiaoxi Zhuang, PhD
The University of Chicago
In Vivo Investigation of DJ–1 function in DJ-1 Knockout Mice

In addition to The Michael J. Fox Foundation, contributors to the program include: the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, National Parkinson Foundation, The Parkinson Alliance and the Parkinson’s Unity Walk, the Parkinson Association of the Sacramento Region, the Parkinson Foundation of the Heartland, and Lawrence County Parkinson's Association. 

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