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PDF Announces $5.5 Million in Parkinsonís Research Awards

Over the past few months, the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF) has made decisions to provide support to a total of 40 scientific projects in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2011, for a total of $5.5 million. These include projects and mentored fellowships initiated by individual investigators from the global scientific grassroots community and collaborative projects being conducted by research teams at major institutions.

Each of these projects — and the scientists who lead them — have been chosen because our scientific committees believe they hold outstanding promise to help us understand what leads to Parkinson’s disease (PD), and how it may be treated. But how exactly do we determine — amongst the 200 or more proposals that we review — which ones represent the best science, with the highest likelihood of impacting people living with Parkinson’s? Where should we be investing to help find the cure?

We at PDF cannot dictate where the cure is going to come from. What we can do is to provide funds that will support the imagination of teams and individuals that can best make those recommendations. PDF’s philosophy is to empower stakeholders in the field — both the larger community of Parkinson’s disease scientists and our own team of reviewers/advisors — to find these answers.

We do not tell scientists what to do, we invite them to tell us what they believe will be the best route to take, and then try to fund the most promising proposals through the generosity of people like the readers of this newsletter.

We choose the best proposals by seeking input and guidance from leading researchers, clinicians and people living with Parkinson’s. In the latter category, our reviewers — such as Thomas Shiftan, M.D., of La Jolla, CA, and Rebecca Houde, J.D., of Boston, MA — are members of PDF’s Parkinson’s Advocates in Research (PAIR) program. By debating the merits of the proposals alongside the scientists and clinicians who make the final decisions, the advocates ensure that the projects chosen meet both PDF’s mission and the needs of the community.

How did our reviewers think we should pursue scientific progress this year? The answer should not surprise you: from every angle possible. The proposals that they reviewed range from basic science investigations of the cellular mechanisms that underlie the disease, to studies of potential new therapies. They also include ideas that may lead to symptomatic relief for the people who are living with Parkinson’s today.

One example is the work of Vikram Khurana, M.D., Ph.D. on patient-derived stem cells, that will help us better understand the basic fundamentals of the disease. Another is the work of Abirami Muralidharan, Ph.D., who will be studying whether a new type of deep brain stimulation might help ease gait disorders that are resistant to standard PD medications like Sinemet®.

Looking Ahead

We are excited about the research we have been able to fund this year and believe that the key to the success of the process lies in the collaboration it encourages amongst researchers, clinicians, people with Parkinson’s and up-and-coming scientists. It is this process — scientist-initiated, peer-reviewed, advocate-advised — that we believe provides the best road to understanding and solving Parkinson’s.

We are looking forward to following the progress of these projects and hearing from the outstanding scientists behind them and then reporting to you over the coming months and years how their outcomes will affect the Parkinson’s community.

View PDF's 2012 External Grant Recipients