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PDF Commits $1.4 Million to Promising Parkinson's Scientists

The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF) has just announced a series of grants amounting to $1.4 million to support the work of 12 research scientists.  The grant recipients were chosen from a group of nearly 160 applicants by a scientific review committee led by Stanley Fahn, M.D., PDF’s Scientific Director.

PDF has traditionally awarded one-year grants to promising scientists through two of its larger research programs: the International Research Grants Program (IRGP) and the Research Fellowship Program.  Both programs enable investigators with novel “high risk/high reward” proposals to demonstrate the feasibility of their ideas, while generating the critical preliminary data that will lead to future funding from major institutions such as the National Institutes of Health.

This year, upon the recommendation of the scientific review committee, PDF expanded the award parameters of both programs.  Specifically, IRGP grants this year reached a maximum of $75,000 for each of two years (following a successful first year) — up from $50,000 for a single year.

Among the awardees are IRGP recipient Cyrus Zabetian, M.D., M.S., of the University of Washington, Seattle, and fellowship recipient Navneet Ammal Kaidery, Ph.D., of Weill Medical College of Cornell University — who plan to answer questions about both genetic variants and alpha-synuclein and Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Although the number of people whose Parkinson’s is determined by genetics is very small, most scientists agree that the study of genetics is crucial to understanding classic PD.  Dr. Zabetian will create the first South American genetics consortium on Parkinson’s.  In collaboration with five other institutions in four countries (Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Uruguay), he will collect DNA and clinical, demographic and environmental exposure data from over 1,700 people living with Parkinson’s for two years.  With his colleagues here and abroad, he will analyze the genome in search of genetic abnormalities unique to that population.

Dr. Zabetian says the project will build on some of the progress already made by genetic studies in developed countries, such as the discovery of the gene LRRK2 in Ashkenazi Jews, which have revealed that the genes for PD vary across different populations.  He notes, “We lack a sufficient number of large-scale PD genetic studies from developing nations.  With this funding from PDF, we will be able to expand our research to understudied regions of the world.  This will increase our chances of discovering new PD genes, which could lead to important breakthroughs in our understanding of the disease.”

Dr. Kaidery will be investigating novel ways to prevent and/or reverse the clumping of the protein, alpha-synuclein in Parkinson’s.  This clumping, the pathological hallmark of the disease, is related to cell death in PD.  Dr. Kaidery’s studies will investigate the effectiveness of a synthetic chemical compound in protecting dopamine neurons from alpha-synuclein toxicity.  The compound, a synthetic triterpenoid known as TP-319 EA, activates a signaling pathway that is known to protect cells from oxidative damage and inflammation.  These two processes lead to cell death and have been linked to PD. 

In addition, impairment of this pathway, called the Nrf2/ARE pathway, has been implicated as a cause of PD.  So, he and his colleagues will test in animals the efficacy of oral doses of TP-319 EA to see if they ease the mice’s Parkinsonian symptoms.  If successful, the research may point to a new pathway for protecting dopamine neurons in people with Parkinson’s – something that is still not possible with current therapies.

Dr. Fahn says that PDF’s decision to increase the size and duration of grants has, “encouraged applications from the brightest international scientific talent, which has ensured that only the best ideas are supported by the available funds.  These grants will promote innovative research with a high potential to significantly advance the knowledge of Parkinson’s.”

In FY2009, PDF contributed more than $5.9 million to support Parkinson’s research.  Since 1957, PDF has funded over $75 million worth of scientific research in Parkinson’s, supporting the work of leading scientists throughout the world.

See the full list of 2010 PDF Grant Awardees and read about their work


Source Date: Sep 21 2009