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PDF Awards Nearly $900K to Fund 18 Promising PD Research Projects

The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF) is pleased to announce the award of $890,000 in grants to support the research of 18 outstanding Parkinson’s scientists from around the world. The successful candidates for PDF’s International Research Grants and Fellowships Program were chosen from a record field of 143 applicants by a committee of scientists headed by Dr. Stanley Fahn, PDF’s Scientific Director.

“Each year we continue to be astonished at the rising number and outstanding quality of the applications we receive,” said Robin Elliott, PDF Executive Director. "The good news to draw from this is that the number of fine young scientists with a research interest in Parkinson's is increasing. The bad news is that the availability of government funding for new projects is lower than it has been in years. For both reasons, programs such as IRGP are essential to ensuring that the most promising Parkinson's science continues to receive crucial funding.”

One of the grant recipients is Dr. Esther Wong, who will study alpha-synuclein, a protein that accumulates inside dopamine neurons in people with Parkinson’s disease (PD), in the labs of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, New York. Scientists believe that a mutant form of alpha-synuclein may contribute in some way to the death of these cells and to the beginning of symptoms.

Dr. Wong’s work will examine how alpha-synuclein is normally eliminated in a healthy brain and why this process does not take place in people with Parkinson’s.  While cells are endowed with “surveillance systems” that detect unwanted or abnormal proteins and eliminate them before they become toxic to the cells, it is not clear how the cells decide which surveillance system to use for the elimination of a given protein. Dr. Wong’s hypothesis is that the cells may use different “tagging” patterns to label proteins to determine the elimination pathway followed. She will examine if alterations in this tagging system could be behind the abnormal accumulation of alpha-synuclein in nerve cells in PD patients.

“Being able to control the amount of alpha-synuclein in the neuron is key in preventing the development of Parkinson’s disease,” explains Dr. Wong. “Thanks to PDF’s generous funding, we are able to examine how the nerve cell may use different tagging patterns to remove alpha-synuclein by the various cellular surveillance systems. Potentially, this will provide us a means to manipulate the level of alpha-synuclein for therapeutic intervention.”

Another funded project, this one led by Dr. Taslimarif Saiyed of the University of California, San Francisco, will focus on a long-studied theme in PD that dopamine itself may be a toxic agent to the cells that produce it, causing the cells to die.  In neurons, neurotransmitters including dopamine are stored in small structures called “synaptic vesicles,” and the synaptic vesicles are responsible for the release of dopamine in the brain. Much work suggests that transport of dopamine into synaptic vesicles, which is required for normal dopamine release, also blocks the toxicity of dopamine.  Dr. Saiyed’s project will explore the theory that a synaptic vesicle protein, called synaptobrevin, regulates dopamine transport into synaptic vesicles.  Dr. Saiyed will determine how this function influences the toxicity of dopamine.

PDF is proud to contribute to the important work of these impressive and promising young scientists. These grants were funded through PDF’s International Research Grants and Fellowships Program, one of numerous ways in which PDF funds important Parkinson’s research. Another initiative is our Center Grants Program, through which we support PD research teams at several medical institutions. In fiscal year 2008, PDF will contribute more than $4.5 million to support Parkinson’s disease research.

Since its founding in 1957, PDF has funded almost $70 million worth of scientific research in Parkinson’s disease, supporting the work of leading scientists throughout the world. For more information on PDF’s research programs, contact our Research Department at (800) 457-6676 or visit our website at

2007 – 2008 International Research Grants and Fellowships Program Awardees

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

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

Sylvain Doré, Ph.D.
Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine
Baltimore, Maryland

Jane Driver, M.D., M.P.H.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Boston, Massachussetts

Ignacio Fernandez Mata, Ph.D.
University of Washington,
Seattle, Washington

James Foster, Ph.D.
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

Matthew Goldberg, Ph.D.
UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas
Dallas, Texas

Shigeki Hirano, M.D., Ph.D.
Feinstein Institute for Medical Research
Manhasset, New York

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

Shilpa Iyer, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia

Hong Jiang, Ph.D.
Sun Health Research Institute
Sun City, Arizona

Matthew LaVoie, Ph.D.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Boston, Massachusetts

David Park, Ph.D.
Ottawa Health Research Institute
Ottawa, Canada

Taslimarif Saiyed, Ph.D.
University of California at San Francisco
San Francisco, California

Cleanthe Spanaki, M.D., Ph.D.
University of Crete
Heraklion, Greece

Esther Wong, Ph.D.
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Bronx, New York

Jin Xu, Ph.D.
Caritas St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center
Boston, Massachusetts

Kui Xu, M.D., Ph.D.
Massachusetts General Hospital
Charlestown, Massachusetts