Michael J. Fox Foundation Awards $2.8 Million for Parkinson's Research

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The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research announced February 4, 2010 that it will award more than $2.8 million for 13 new projects to speed the discovery of biomarkers of Parkinson's Disease (PD).

A biomarker is a specific, measurable physical trait that is used to determine or indicate the effects or progress of a disease or condition. Currently, Parkinson’s disease has no validated biomarkers. According to the news release issued by the Foundation, the lack of clear and reliable biomarkers in PD is one of the greatest hurdles currently facing the development and testing of new treatments to slow, stop, or even prevent the disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects one in 100 people over the age of 60. Because of the lack of biomarkers, misdiagnosis of PD is high and estimates of the number of people living with the disease can vary. Recent research indicates that one million people in the United States, and six million people worldwide, suffer from Parkinson’s disease.

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One of the projects to be funded by MJFF is an MRI imaging technique known as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) demonstrated by Dr. David Vaillancourt, PhD of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In a paper published in the April 2009 edition of the journal Neurology, Dr. Vaillancourt found that DTI can distinguish people with early stage PD from those without the disease. His new study will work to determine if DTI can provide additional information about PD, including the differentiation from other neurological movement disorders.

Another study funded by the new grant will use routine colonoscopy biopsies to identify lesions that occur outside of the central nervous system, such as in the entering nervous system of the colon. Dr. Pascall Derkinderen, Professor of Neurology at Nantes University Hospital in France, will study the biopsies of 30 PD patients and compare them to controls.

The development of drug biomarkers is also critical for researchers. Danna Jennings MD of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Disorders is working with a brain imaging test called 18F-PEB PET to assess the glutamate function in the brain. The development of a drug that blocks a glutamate receptor known as mGluR5 may be able to reduce the involuntary movements that are characteristic of both the disease itself and a dopamine replacement therapy used to treat PD.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease through an aggressively funded research agenda. A complete list of funded projects is available on the Foundation website at www.michaeljfox.org.

This page is updated on May 11, 2013.

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