Xi Chen, PhD, of the Van Andel Research Institute, was called a “standout grand recipient” this year. Chen is using a $100,000 postdoctoral fellowship to study an emerging area of genetics: the VPS35 gene. The gene plays a role in the development of Parkinson’s disease, but how it does this is not fully understood.
Chen will use mice to study how VPS35 might interact with proteins and brain cells and potentially lead to Parkinson’s symptoms. Results from his investigation may help to develop new treatments that could prevent Parkinson’s disease in the future.
Chen’s mentor is Darren Moore, PhD, whose early research was also funded by the Parkinson’s Foundation.
“As a former grantee, I know firsthand that the Parkinson’s Foundation grant funding can help to launch a career in Parkinson’s,” Moore said in a press release. “In today’s funding environment, the foundation’s grants fill a critical gap and ensure that the best research continues.”
James Beck, PhD, chief scientific officer of the Parkinson’s Foundation, said the foundation “recognizes that we must support the creativity and ingenuity of the next generation in order to make advances. We are excited to track results from Dr. Chen and others whose work holds potential to help us end Parkinson’s.”
The 27 new grantees were selected through a competitive application process reviewed by the foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), which includes scientific experts and patient advocates.
The Parkinson’s Foundation invests $4 million annually in a comprehensive research portfolio. A significant portion of that amount is directed toward career development grant programs — which range from three months to two years — and fellowships to provide postdoctoral researchers and clinicians with the opportunity to test new ideas, work with mentors, and transition into senior researcher status.
“We are proud to continue our long-standing tradition of nurturing the careers of the next generation of Parkinson’s researchers,” said John L. Lehr, CEO of the Parkinson’s Foundation. “Their innovative ideas may one day transform the field for millions worldwide.”
Regarding Chen’s work, the loss of VPS35 protein activity in Parkinson’s disease was found to interfere with dopamine-neuron recycling pathways for the first time in 2015, according to a research study published in The Journal of Neuroscience.
Specifically, VPS35 was shown to lead to the accumulation of alpha-synuclein protein deposits, which contributes to the development of the disease.
The study was titled “VPS35 in Dopamine Neurons Is Required for Endosome-to-Golgi Retrieval of Lamp2a, a Receptor of Chaperone-Mediated Autophagy That Is Critical for α-Synuclein Degradation and Prevention of Pathogenesis of Parkinson’s Disease.”