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PDF Awards "Seed Grants" to 17 Promising PD Scientists

The Parkinson's Disease Foundation (PDF) is pleased to announce the award of $667,000 in grants to support the research of 17 outstanding Parkinson's scientists from around the world. These awards were made on March 31 through PDF's International Research Grants Program (IRGP) by a committee of scientists headed by Dr. Stanley Fahn, PDF's Scientific Director.

"This program continues to grow in quality every year as we receive increasingly competitive proposals," said Dr. Fahn. "We are confident that this year's awardees will use their funding to conduct research that will give us more insight into Parkinson's and its causes."

One of the IRGP winners is Dr. David Park, of the Ottawa Health Research Institute in Ontario, whose project seeks to understand the relationship between a group of molecules known as "free radicals" and the death of specialized brain cells in Parkinson's disease. Free radicals are highly damaging agents which are thought to contribute to the initiation of the cell death process. Dr. Park and his team recently identified a protein, called cdk5, which they believe controls how these damaging radicals are produced. His project will attempt to block this protein with the aim of slowing down the progression in a model of PD.

Another project that was selected for funding will be headed by Dr. Lee Clough and Dr. Leonidas Stefanis of the Foundation for Biomedical Research of the Academy of Athens in Greece. The investigators will study the regulation, or the turning on, of the gene for alpha-synuclein — a protein that has been implicated as one of the possible causes of Parkinson's disease. Drs. Clough and Stefanis have identified a novel "switch" that makes more synuclein in the presence of factors that are important in the growth and maintenance of nerve cells.

"We know that the amount of 'normal' alpha-synuclein produced in the brain is a risk factor in the development of Parkinson's," said Dr. Clough. "Unfortunately, the regulation and production of synuclein is an under-studied area in PD research. PDF's generous grant will allow us to expand our knowledge in this area and perhaps provide us with an insight of how to control the expression of this gene in Parkinson's patients."

PDF is also supporting the work of Dr. Peter Teismann of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, whose team has been studying a receptor that they believe plays a role in the development of Parkinson's disease. This receptor has also been identified to be involved in Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Teismann's group has found evidence that a substrate (a substance on which an enzyme acts) called S100B, which activates this receptor, may also be of importance. They will be investigating whether S100B plays a role in the development of the disease by using an experimental animal model of Parkinson's. Further studies will also try to clarify the pathway by which this substrate acts.

"Not only will the proposed study help us to understand the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease in a better way," said Dr. Teismann, "but it can also lead to new therapeutic strategies that could prevent the development of Parkinson's."

PDF is proud to contribute to the important work of these impressive and promising young scientists. We would like to thank the following organizations and individuals whose generosity has made this program possible: Bob Benjamin, Edward Rubin, the Harriet Ford Dickenson Foundation, John H. Stewart Fund for Parkinson's Research, the Parkinson Alliance, the Parkinson's Unity Walk, Randi S. Jacobs Fund for Parkinson's Research, the Ron Shapiro Foundation and Stephen M. Delay Fund for Parkinson's Research.

IRGP is one of several programs in our research-funding portfolio, including our Center Grants to fund Parkinson's research at top medical institutions. In 2006 - 2007, PDF will distribute more than $4.1 million to support Parkinson's disease research.

Since our founding in 1957, PDF has funded more than $50 million worth of scientific research in Parkinson's disease, supporting the work of leading scientists throughout the world. For more information on these and PDF's other research programs, please contact Sharon Stone, Director of Research and External Programs, at sstone@pdf.org, or visit our website at www.pdf.org/research/.

2006 - 2007 International Research Grants Program Awardees

Manolo Carta, Ph.D.
Wallenberg Neuroscience Center Lund University
Lund, Sweden

Daniel Chase, Ph.D.
Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut

Li Chen, M.D., Ph.D.
Brigham and Women's Hospital
Boston, Massachusetts

Lee Clough, Ph.D., Leonidis Stefanis, Ph.D.
Foundation for Biomedical Research of the Academy of Athens
Athens, Greece

Omar El-Agnaf, Ph.D.
United Arab Emirates University
Al Ain, United Arab Emirates

Emad Eskandar, M.D.
Massachusetts General Hospital
Boston, Massachusetts

Katherine Franz, Ph.D.
Duke University
Durham, North Carolina

Nicholas Hallworth, Ph.D.
Northwestern University
Chicago, Illinois

Syed Imam, M.S., Ph.D.
University of Texas Health
Science Center
San Antonio, Texas

George Jackson, M.D., Ph.D.
David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
Los Angeles, California

Changwei Liu, Ph.D.
University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center
Aurora, Colorado

Daniel Pack, Ph.D.
University of Illinois
Urbana, Illinois

David Park, Ph.D.
University of Ottawa
Ottawa, Canada

Jean-Christophe Rochet, Ph.D.
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana

Peter Teismann, Ph.D.
University of Aberdeen
Aberdeen, Scotland

Andrew West, Ph.D.
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Baltimore, Maryland

Xiaoxi Zhuang, Ph.D.
The University of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois