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PDF Commits $700,000 to Promising Parkinson's Scientists

The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF) has just announced a series of grants amounting to $700,000 to support the work of 11 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. 

Two Grantee Profiles

Among the awardees are two from the University of Washington, Seattle — Cyrus Zabetian, M.D., M.S., and Jonathon Burman, Ph.D. — who plan to answer questions about genetic variants 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. Burman will conduct research in the laboratory of Leo Pallanck, Ph.D., studying PINK1 and parkin, two genes implicated in causing early-onset PD.  The project will focus on the role that PINK1 and parkin play in maintaining and recycling mitochondria, the energy-producing apparatus of the cell.  He proposes that PINK1 may play a part in sensing when mitochondria are damaged and ensuring that they are recycled, thus keeping the brain cell healthy and fully powered.  He will test his hypothesis by studying how these genes affect the mitochondria, using the fruit fly as a model system.  His hope is that a better understanding of the mitochondria in PD will point to new therapies.

Conclusions

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.


FY2010 PDF Grant Awardees

International Research Grants

Gammon Earhart, Ph.D., P.T. – Washington University School of Medicine

David Park, Ph.D. - University of Ottawa

Hardy Rideout, Ph.D. - Biomedical Research Foundation, Academy of Athens

Antonio Strafella, M.D., Ph.D. - Centre of Addiction and Mental Health

Peter Teismann, Ph.D. – University of Aberdeen

Christian Wider, M.D. - Mayo Clinic
 
Cyrus Zabetian, M.D., M.S. - University of Washington

 

Research Fellowship Grants

Alessandra Chesi, Ph.D. - University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
 
Navneet Ammal Kaidery, Ph.D. - Weill Medical College of Cornell University

Stefan Sandberg, Ph.D. - University of Washington

Pedro Soldado, Ph.D. - University of California, San Francisco

Ryan Walsh, M.D., Ph.D. - University of Alabama at Birmingham

 

Learn more at: www.pdf.org/en/results_funded