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PDF Awards $900,000 in Seed Grants

The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF) is pleased to announce awards of $900,000 toward its 2008-2009 International Research Grants and Fellowship Program (IRGFP). The funding will support the research of 18 Parkinson’s scientists, chosen on April 11 from a group of almost 100 candidates by a scientific review committee led by Stanley Fahn, M.D., PDF’s Scientific Director.

This year’s outstanding awardees, who hail from around the world, include two who are investigating paths to new potential therapies for Parkinson’s disease (PD). Matthew Goldberg, Ph.D., of the UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, TX, now in his second year as a recipient of IRGFP funding, continues his quest to develop an “animal model” for PD — one that would reproduce the age-dependent progressive loss of dopamine-producing neurons that underlies the primary symptoms of Parkinson’s.

“It is a great honor to be awarded this IRGFP grant,” said Dr. Goldberg. “With the support of PDF, we are able to tackle some of the greatest challenges in Parkinson’s research: understanding why dopamine neurons progressively die, and developing laboratory animals that spontaneously undergo progressive dopamine neuron loss by similar mechanisms. This would provide an enormously valuable tool for discovering and testing neuroprotective therapies for Parkinson’s disease.”

Because human clinical trials are very expensive and time-consuming, laboratory animals are needed to rapidly test novel treatments that might slow down or prevent the progressive loss of dopamine-producing neurons that results in Parkinson’s. The lack of adequate animal models of progressive neuron loss in the area of the brain most affected in Parkinson’s (known as the substantia nigra) has been a major impediment to discovering better treatments for PD.

To address this problem, Dr. Goldberg is working on a new animal model based on the hypothesis that oxidative stress causes PD. He proposes that laboratory mice that are deficient in certain protective antioxidant enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase, in combination with mutations in the genes DJ-1 and Parkin (linked to familial PD), will experience progressive loss of dopamine neurons and other features of PD.

In research of potential treatments, it is important not only to have the means to explore them, as Dr. Goldberg is doing, but to have tangible theories for how they work. This is the focus of the research of Sandra M. Lynch, Ph.D., M.Sc., M.B.A., of the Wadsworth Center of the New York State Department of Health.

Dr. Lynch will be using her grant from PDF to explore a variant of antibodies known as “intrabodies” (called such, because they perform work inside of cells) as a potential treatment for people with PD. She plans to engineer these intrabodies to see if they prevent clumping of the protein alpha-synuclein, which leads to the formation of Lewy bodies — already known as a hallmark of PD. Researchers believe that destroying the clumping of alpha-synuclein may stop the disease in its tracks.

Dr. Lynch is hopeful that her efforts will have high potential to move to clinical trials because past evidence has shown antibodies to be effective therapies for other diseases. In Parkinson’s models, recent research has revealed that intrabodies can indeed inhibit protein aggregation and toxicity. Dr. Lynch sees the possibility that eventually, engineered intrabodies may be found to halt the loss of dopaminergic neurons in people with Parkinson’s disease.

Of this year’s IRGFP recipients, PDF Scientific Director, Dr. Stanley Fahn said, “PDF is pleased to have another strong pool of candidates who are focused on understanding and treating Parkinson’s. Today, unfortunately, funding for science through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) trails the rate of inflation. This means that programs such as the IRGFP are increasingly important — especially for young investigators whose track record for federal funding is not yet well established and whose opportunities for funding are dwindling.”

The IRGFP is part of PDF’s four-pronged approach to funding Parkinson science. In fiscal year 2009, PDF will contribute more than $4.8 million to support Parkinson’s disease research. Since 1957, PDF has funded over $70 million worth of scientific research in Parkinson’s disease, supporting the work of leading scientists throughout the world.

2008 – 2009 IRGFP Awardees

PDF congratulates this year’s IRGFP grant recipients:

C. Savio Chan, Ph.D.
Northwestern University
Chicago, IL

Alessandra Chesi, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA

Simone Engelender, M.D., Ph.D.
Technion-Israel Institute of Technology
Haifa, Israel

Matthew Goldberg, Ph.D.
University of Texas Southwestern
Medical Center
Dallas, TX

Ledia F. Hernandez, Ph.D.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA

Michael Higley, M.D., Ph.D.
Harvard Medical School
Boston, MA

David Hinkle, M.D., Ph.D.
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Pittsburgh, PA

Milan Joksimovic, Ph.D.
Northwestern University
Chicago, IL

Sandra Lynch, Ph.D., M.Sc., M.B.A.
Wadsworth Center, New York State
Department of Health
Albany, NY

Alison McCormack, Ph.D.
The Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center
Sunnyvale, CA

Carlos Moraes, Ph.D.
University of Miami
Miami, FL

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

Jean-Christophe Rochet, Ph.D.
Purdue University
West Lafayette, IN

Enrique Torre, Ph.D.
Emory University School of Medicine
Atlanta, GA

Shaji Theodore, Ph.D.
University of Alabama-Birmingham
Birmingham, AL

Carles Vilariño-Güell, Ph.D.
Mayo Clinic Jacksonville
Jacksonville, FL

Georg Vogler, Ph.D.
Burnham Institute for Medical Research
La Jolla, CA

Wenbo Zhou, Ph.D.
University of Colorado-Denver
Denver, CO