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PDF Awards More Than $700K To 24 Emerging Parkinson's Scientists

The Parkinson's Disease Foundation is pleased to announce some $727,000 in grants to support the research of 24 outstanding young Parkinson's scientists from around the world.

PDF's Scientific Awards Committee met on April 22 to determine the successful candidates for the International Research Grants Program (IRGP) and Post-Doctoral Fellowships Program from a record pool of 133 applicants. The number of applicants this year was almost double last year's total, demonstrating the wide reach and reputation of these quickly-growing research programs.

"The extraordinary quality of the proposals is a strong indication of the robustness of interest in Parkinson's," said Robin Elliott, Executive Director of the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. "It was especially impressive to see a near-doubling in the number of applications, which in turn means an increase in the quality of the proposals selected."

Among the successful candidates are Dr. Meir Plotnik and his colleagues at Tel Aviv University in Israel, who will use their grant to study potential causes of freezing of gait in people with Parkinson's disease. Freezing is seen in about 50 percent of people who are in the later stages of Parkinson's, and it is a symptom that is not always alleviated by medications and surgical procedures. Dr. Plotnik's group is attempting to explain freezing of gait as a manifestation of uncoordinated bilateral motor performance by comparing patients who experience freezing of gait with those who do not. Identifying the causes of freezing of gait could lead to the development of therapeutic counter measures such as more appropriate physical therapy to treat freezing.

"After working for a substantial period of time on the control of balance and equilibrium using animal models, I am glad to have the opportunity to employ a rigorous basic science approach for studying the problem in people," said Dr. Plotnik.

Another IRGP awardee, Dr. LiPing Liang, will be working in his University of Colorado laboratory to examine the possible benefit of using an antioxidant, metalloporphyrin, in treating mice that have been made parkinsonian by means of the toxin MPTP. This class of antioxidants has been shown to have higher potential to protect neurons and higher potential to be absorbed in the brain than other antioxidants, such as vitamin E. A finding that metalloporphyrin proves effective in treating mice could lead to the development of candidate drugs for testing in human clinical trials.

PDF is also supporting the work of Dr. Srinivas Bharath and colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) in Bangalore, India, who are studying a large protein complex (Complex I) that is damaged in Parkinson's disease. The damage to Complex I results in the dysfunction of mitochondria, the energy-producing part of the cell. Dr. Bharath will examine rodent cells with a reduction of a compound that is depleted in the parkinsonian brain called glutathione. Data already indicate that glutathione depletion is one of the early triggering events of cell death in Parkinson's disease. more detailed knowledge of just how Complex I is targeted for damage - and how extensive that damage is - would provide important information about the cause of the disease. Results from these experiments will be corroborated using mouse models of the disease and postmortem brain samples from Parkinson's patients. In turn, such data could provide valuable lessons for the development of neuroprotective and symptomatic treatments.

In a fourth project, researchers at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, led by Dr. Alexia E. Pollack, will test how two other neurotransmitter systems, adenosine and glutamate, interact with dopamine in order to determine their role in relieving motor complications, such as dyskinesias, that are experienced with dopaminergic therapy. Dr. Pollack will examine a rat model of parkinsonism to test the theory that the uncontrollable movements can be alleviated by repeated administration of drugs that act at adenosine and glutamate receptor systems in combination with dopamine agonist drugs. Dr. Pollack's team will test numerous combinations of approved and experimental compounds with the hope that their findings will lead to a treatment strategy that is better tolerated by patients.

"While my work is indeed basic research that uses a rodent model of Parkinson's disease, I always think about how my data might have implications for treatments that could work in people," explained Dr. Pollack. "My IRGP grant ties together many years of work in this field and seeks to explore how glutamate and adenosine may interact to affect dopamine-mediated behavior in the dopamine-depleted system."

Dr. Mathias Toft from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, will head a group working on the LRRK2 gene and its role in Parkinson's disease. Using modern genetic technology, they want to examine whether or not common genetic variants in this gene are associated with PD. They will also continue clinical and genetic research of seven Norwegian families with LRRK2 mutations that are already being followed.

"We are grateful for the support of our research from PDF," said Dr. Toft. "The funding allows us to continue to work on this very exciting gene and its function in PD. The study of LRRK2 has the potential of giving us new insights which might lead to novel therapeutic approaches in the future."

Of the 24 research grants awarded this year, eight are Post-Doctoral Fellowships - that is, the work that the applicant proposed will be sponsored by a principal investigator at the applicant's research institution.

PDF is proud to contribute to the important work of these impressive and promising young scientists, and would like in particular to thank the Parkinson's Unity Walk for providing $100,000 in 2005 to partially fund the IRGP segment of the awards.

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/en/funding_res. A complete list of IRGP awardees for 2005-2006 appears below.

2005 - 2006 Recipients of the International Research Grants Program and Post-Doctoral Fellowships Program

Amy Allen, Ph.D.*
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Nashville, Tennessee

Srinivas Bharath, Ph.D.
National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences
Bangalore, India

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

François Gonon, Ph.D.
Université Bordeaux 2
Bordeaux, France

Penelope Hallett, Ph.D.
Massachusetts General Hospital
Charlestown, Massachusetts

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

Sabine Hilfiker, Ph.D.
Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas
Granada, Spain

Kari Hoyt, Ph.D.
Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio

Jinghua Jin, Ph.D.*
University of Washington
Seattle, Washington

Daniel Lévesque, Ph.D.
Laval University
Quebec, Canada

Gil Levkowitz, Ph.D.
Weizmann Institute of Science
Rehovot, Israel

LiPing Liang, M.D.
University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center
Denver, Colorado

Heather Melrose, Ph.D.*
Mayo Clinic Jacksonville
Jacksonville, Florida

Meir Plotnik, Ph.D.
Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center
Tel Aviv, Israel

Alexia Pollack, Ph.D.
University of Massachusetts Boston
Boston, Massachusetts

Dean Pountney, Ph.D.
Griffith University
Gold Coast MC, Australia

Dianbo Qu, Ph.D.*
University of Ottawa
Ottawa, Canada

Cleanthe Spanaki, M.D., Ph.D.*
University of Crete
Heraklio, Greece

Mihaela Stavarache, M.D.*
Weill Medical College of Cornell University
New York, New York

Ying Tan, M.D., Ph.D.*
University of Massachusetts
Worcester, Massachusetts

Peter Teismann, Ph.D.
University of Goettingen
Goettingen, Germany

Philip Thomas, Ph.D.
UT Southwestern Medical Center
Dallas, Texas

Mathias Toft, M.D.
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Trondheim, Norway

Konstantinos Vekrellis, Ph.D.
Foundation of Biomedical Research, Academy of Athens
Athens, Greece

*Denotes Post-Doctoral Fellowships