Is it possible, Dr. Earhart wondered, that dance lessons may help improve balance among people with PD, whose risk of falls is high?
PDF Grant Programs
Are you interested in furthering Parkinson's science? View PDF's open grant programs.
Results: Fellowship and Career Development Grants
Supporting the Training of Young Scientists, Future Leaders
PDF’s mentored fellowships, training opportunities and career development awards generate interest in Parkinson’s research and patient care among basic scientists and clinicians. In the longer term, this can lead many of these young scientists and clinicians to devote their talents to the study of Parkinson’s for years, even for their entire careers. In the current fiscal year, PDF is supporting 28 fellows with a total of $1.28 million.
Increasing Our Understanding of Cognitive Impairment in Parkinson's
Ranging from mild attention difficulties to dementia, cognitive impairment is a debilitating symptom of Parkinson’s. With funding from PDF’s International Research Grants and Fellowship Program, Ryan Walsh, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is using fMRI (functional MRI) imaging to identify the anatomical features underlying cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s and to determine whether there are differences in how people with or without cognitive impairment respond to dopamine-based medications. The results may lead to imaging biomarkers for evaluating the nature, degree and progression of cognitive dysfunction in Parkinson’s.
Understanding the Possible Impact of Vitamin D on Balance
Through the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation/ Parkinson Study Group (PSG) Mentored Research Award, new investigators are funded for a one-year project in patient-oriented research in Parkinson’s under the mentorship of an experienced investigator. Amie L. Peterson, M.D., of Oregon Health Sciences University, the 2009 Award recipient, is focusing her fellowship on an element of Parkinson’s that is troublesome and risky to many living with the disease, but is as yet underexplored: problems with falls, strength and balance.
These issues can become serious in later-stage Parkinson’s, yet no intervention has been found to successfully address them. And although research has shown that use of vitamin D supplements may cause a decrease in falls among elderly people in general, this issue has not been looked at in persons with Parkinson’s.
To address this under-studied area, Dr. Peterson began her research project, “A Pilot Study of Balance and Vitamin D in Persons with Parkinson's Disease,” under the mentorship of Jay Nutt, M.D., and Fay Horak, Ph.D. They are working with 40 people with Parkinson’s and are measuring balance and vitamin D levels in each person.
Dr. Peterson will compare these levels in people who tend to fall versus those who do not to see if there is any correlation between the two. She hopes that this study, if conclusive, will lay the groundwork for a future study, investigating whether people who take a vitamin D supplement find an improvement in balance and strength, and a decrease in their falls.
Investigating the Function of a Parkinson's Disease Gene
Scientists have identified several genes that, in rare cases, lead to an inherited form of Parkinson's. One of these genes is called PARK9. Because yeast have a gene, called YPK9, that is analogous to human PARK9, research into the function of this gene in yeast can have direct implications for understanding the role of PARK9 in human health.
As a recipient of one of PDF’s Postdoctoral Fellowships for Basic Scientists, Alessandra Chesi, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine discovered last year that the YPK9 protein neutralizes the toxicity of another protein — alpha-synuclein — that builds up to toxic levels in the dopamine neurons of people with Parkinson’s. YPK9 also helped protect cells from environmental damage due to exposure to the metal manganese. In humans, manganese exposure is linked to a Parkinson's-like syndrome.
This team is now investigating the mechanism through which this protection comes about, beginning with studies in yeast and then expanding to mammalian cells. The scientists hope that these studies will shed light on the interaction between genetic and environmental risk factors for Parkinson's.