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2011 Research Awards Total $1.2 Million

The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF) is pleased to announce awards totaling $1.2 million through its external grants program — $700,000 to support first-year studies of eight research scientists, and $500,000 to support a second year of funding for 2010 grantees who have demonstrated a successful first year of research.  The eight newly-selected grant recipients were chosen from a group of 150 applicants by a review committee that was chaired by Robert Burke, M.D., and included Stanley Fahn, M.D., PDF’s Scientific Director.

The awards are given through two key research programs — the International Grants Program, which awards grants for up to two years at $75,000 a year and the Research Fellowship Grants Program, which awards one-year grants of up to $55,000.  The programs seek to fund “high-risk/high-reward” research that may have a significant impact upon Parkinson’s science; and, in the case of the fellowship program — to support scientists early in their careers.

Grantee Profiles

These concepts are evident in the work of this year’s awardees, including Leo Pallanck, Ph.D., of the University of Washington and James Maas, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of California.

Dr. Pallanck will be using his research grant to investigate the potentially protective effects of tobacco on Parkinson’s.  Dr. Pallanck says that while earlier studies have been promising, we still do not know which of the many chemicals within tobacco account for its suggested capacity to protect against PD — not to mention that PD cannot be treated with tobacco directly because of dangers associated with its use.  In his previous work, Dr. Pallanck has found two important clues: first, tobacco extract protects neurons in fruit fly models of Parkinson’s, and second, it appears that nicotine is not the protective factor.  Now, he will dig deeper to find the exact chemical component of tobacco that may save neurons in PD, which he says “in turn, may one day lead to the identification of a potential treatment for Parkinson’s.”

While Dr. Pallanck focuses on a potential therapeutic pathway for PD, Dr. Maas will be conducting research into one of the most basic elements of Parkinson’s: the role of dopamine.  He notes that this neurotransmitter — the one whose loss leads to Parkinson’s symptoms — is poorly understood to this day.

When dopamine is released from a neuron, it typically travels in one direction to its target destination.  Dr. Maas will explore dendritic dopamine release, a process in which dopamine is released in the opposite direction.  This unconventional mechanism may affect how much dopa­mine is released in the brain.  A better understanding of this fundamental aspect of the basic biology of neurons may shed light on how the brain controls muscle movement — and how the loss of that control develops in the course of Parkinson’s.


Dr. Fahn comments as follows, “The work of Drs. Pallanck and Maas and this year’s other grantees is replete with original ideas for improving our understanding of Parkinson’s at the most basic levels, and finding new approaches to treating it.  We need to be sure that the best talent is attracted to the challenge of solving Parkinson’s and helping those who live with it.  Funding fellows and young scientists, an area in which PDF leads, is the best way to make this happen.”

In FY2010, PDF contributed more than $5.5 million to support Parkinson’s research.

PDF 2011 External Grant Recipients

International Research Grants

Tobias Kurth, M.D., Sc.D., and Robert Y. L. Zee, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Leo J. Pallanck, Ph.D.     
University of Washington

David Park, Ph.D.*
University of Ottawa

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

Antonio Strafella, M.D., Ph.D., F.R.C.P.C.*
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health    

Christian Wider, M.D.,* and Matthew J. Farrer, Ph.D.    
CHUV Lausanne and Mayo Clinic Florida

Cyrus Zabetian, M.D., M.S.*     
University of Washington

Research Fellowship Grants

Thomas Durcan, Ph.D.    
McGill University

Sonia George, Ph.D.    
University of Minnesota

James Maas, M.D., Ph.D.
University of California at San Francisco

Khurshida Shahidullah, Ph.D.     
Weill Cornell Medical College

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

Maria Xilouri, Ph.D.    
Biomedical Research Foundation of the Academy of Athens

*Denotes second year of funding.

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