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Funding Science to Find a Cure

Robin Elliott

As we approach our 50th anniversary of serving the Parkinson's community (it happens next year!), the Parkinson's Disease Foundation (PDF) continues pursuing its mission to help solve the mysteries, and ease the ravages, of Parkinson's disease. We do this in three ways: by funding research, providing information and support to individuals, families and professionals in the PD community and supporting programs of public advocacy.

In this article, we address our research program in which we have invested more than $50 million since 1957.

At PDF, we take four approaches to support scientific research of the highest caliber. One of these is through a series of Center Grants at major universities. Another is funding talented independent investigators through our International Research Grants Program (IRGP). A third is through programs of mentored fellowships, training and career development grants. And with the fourth approach, PDF collaborates with other organizations on innovative joint projects.

Our research program is guided by a Scientific Advisory Committee of leading Parkinson's scientists headed by Dr. Stanley Fahn, PDF's Scientific Director.

Center Grants

Through its Center Grants, PDF provides funding to select research groups that have a long and distinguished track record of, and commitment to, understanding Parkinson's. Center Grants are based on the concept that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. These grants allow a strong group of talented scientists, working on different but related Parkinson's projects, the flexibility to collaborate with one another and tie their work together.

Currently, we award Center Grants to the movement disorders centers at three prestigious institutions: Columbia University Medical Center in New York City; Rush University Medical Center in Chicago; and Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. Our investment at these three centers covers the spectrum of Parkinson's research: basic, translational and clinical.

In the current fiscal year, the Center Grants program will account for about $2.6 million - more than 60 percent of our total research budget.

International Research Grants Program

PDF also fosters Parkinson's science through a competitive, investigator-initiated program of one-year "seed grants" (about $40,000 each) known as the International Research Grants Program (IRGP). These grants are awarded to talented investigators - most of them at an early stage in their careers. These investigators are testing novel ideas and building data that will later qualify them to apply for larger grants (typically, from the National Institutes of Health and other government funding agencies) to support their investigations.

Fellowships and career development grants

PDF offers awards to generate interest in PD research and patient care among younger scientists and clinicians. This category contains post-doctoral fellowships for neurologists, post-doctoral research fellowships, and summer fellowships for high school and college students who are interested in neuroscience.

Post-doctoral fellowships for neurologists support doctors who wish to train in movement disorders as well as those who have finished their movement disorders training and wish to complete advanced research and clinical training. Most of the graduates of this program return to their home states and continue to lead - and in many cases, to create - exemplary programs in movement disorders. PDF also grants post-doctoral research fellowships to a group of young scientists who have completed their Ph.D.

Two additional mentorship initiatives that are funded by PDF are competitive fellowships administered by the prestigious Parkinson Study Group and the American Academy of Neurology.

In 2007, PDF will invest almost $1.2 million in IRGP, fellowships and career development grants.

Collaborative endeavors

PDF also pursues, to the extent that resources permit, collaborations with other research funding organizations. Through the Advancing Parkinson's Treatments Innovations Grant, we provide a yearly grant to support the Parkinson Study Group (PSG). This is part of an effort by PDF to fund new and innovative programs that facilitate the clinical research process so that treatments and therapies move at an accelerated rate from "bench to bedside."

Another example is a recent two-year venture with the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research to help speed up the development of an effective biomarker for PD - a test that will measure the rate at which Parkinson's progresses. A pilot program - Biomarkers I - was concluded in the summer of 2005 and the collaborating organizations will continue to work together on Biomarkers II, a follow-up program.

All of this outstanding research that we have funded at PDF, and will continue to fund, is made possible only because of supporters like you. We thank you for your generosity, and we look forward to the day when we stop recognizing anniversaries of foundations such as ours, and start celebrating the day when a cure for Parkinson's was found.

Robin Elliott is Executive Director of the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.