Scientists are making inroads because thousands of people with Parkinson’s and their family members have donated their brains to science, including to PDF-supported programs at Columbia University Medical Center and Rush University Medical Center.
PDF Grant Programs
Are you interested in furthering Parkinson's science? View PDF's open grant programs.
Results: Individual Investigators
“With PDF’s help, we will be able to continue our research, the ultimate goal of which is to expand the ‘pipeline’ of promising compounds for novel Parkinson’s disease therapies.” — Dr. Virginia M.-Y Lee, University of Pennsylvania
The International Research Grants Program (IRGP) awards grants to scientists with novel “high risk/high reward” proposals, allowing them to test 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. In the current fiscal year, PDF is supporting the work of five Parkinson’s research scientists with $825,000.
The grant recipients were chosen by members of PDF’s grants review subcommittee led by Dr. Robert Burke of Columbia University Medical Center and including Stanley Fahn, M.D., PDF's Scientific Director.
Dance for Parkinson's: Funding Innovative Research that is Unlikely to Secure Funding Through More Traditional Sources
With funding from PDF, Gammon Earhart, P.T., Ph.D., of the Washington University School of Medicine, is examining the role of partnered dance in Parkinson’s. This study represents one of the first to examine the effectiveness of a long-term, community-based partnered dance exercise program for individuals with Parkinson’s and one of the first to evaluate the effects of exercise by assessing individuals who are off their medication. The initial results are promising, suggesting a clear improvement in disease severity (as assessed by the UPDRS, a rating scale used to measure disease progression) in those who are exercising. Furthermore, this study suggests that the benefits of six months of exercise were greater than those of just three months of exercise, with benefits maintained at 12 months relative to the six-month time point.
This work paves the way for future studies to determine the relative effectiveness of different forms and doses of exercise for people with Parkinson’s and for studies of the mechanisms by which dance may convey benefits.
Creating a South American Genetics Consortium on Parkinson's Disease
Scientists have recently identified several genes that, when mutated, cause rare inherited forms of Parkinson’s disease. However, most of these studies have been conducted in the US and other economically-developed countries. Few large-scale Parkinson’s genetic studies have been carried out among people from developing nations.
With IRGP funding, Cyrus Zabetian, M.D., M.S., of the University of Washington in Seattle is creating a Latin American Research Consortium on the Genetics of Parkinson’s Disease, which will include five institutions in Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Uruguay.
Dr. Zabetian and his colleagues are aiming to collect blood specimens for DNA extraction as well as demographic, clinical, and environmental exposure data from 1,750 people with Parkinson’s and 1,650 people without the disease. The samples and data, held in a consortium coordinating center at the Seattle Institute for Biomedical and Clinical Research in Washington state, will provide a unique resource for future genetic research on Parkinson’s.
Bridging Research Funding Gaps
As part of its efforts to support the best science, PDF remains nimble and responsive to the needs of the research community. In 2009, PDF awarded one-time grants of $75,000 each to four scientists whose grants were terminated when the source of their funding collapsed. This bridge funding ensured that promising research would not be put on hold. These researchers included J. Timothy Greenamyre, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh; Virginia M.-Y Lee, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania; David Sulzer, Ph.D., of Columbia University; and D. James Surmeier, Ph.D., of Northwestern University.
Each project is pursuing a novel avenue of research that may shed light on new ways of treating Parkinson’s. For example, Dr. Lee, along with John Q. Trojanowski, M.D., Ph.D., is focused on drug discovery that targets the misfolding, or clumping, of a protein called alphasynuclein. This clumping is believed to contribute to the cell death that leads to Parkinson’s.
Their team will test a variety of known compounds to determine if any are effective in preventing the protein clumping and will examine the most promising candidates for their potential not only to treat Parkinson’s, but also, theoretically, to slow its progression.