With the overarching goal of helping scientists develop and test targeted therapies in Parkinson’s (PD), The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) is awarding $5 million in grants to three teams conducting genetic studies in African, East Asian and Indian populations.
The funding seeks to broaden these studies in order to better understand the role of genetics in PD onset and progression, and to expand treatment options for patients globally. Historically, the majority of research has focused on people of European descent. The grants will enable genetic testing of samples from more than 30,000 people.
“While the field has made significant strides in genetic research, we know we have more to learn about the changes in DNA that lead to Parkinson’s disease and impact its progression,” Brian Fiske, PhD, MJFF senior vice president of research programs, said a news release. “This is an all-star initiative with world-class geneticists, clinic networks and study volunteers coming together to paint a global picture of Parkinson’s and work toward cures for everyone.”
Since researchers discovered the first genetic mutation linked to PD in 1997, more than 80 others have been identified. Scientists are studying the cellular impact of these mutations, associated with about 15 percent of PD cases, in order to better understand Parkinson’s and possible ways of treating it.
Potential therapies aimed at proteins including LRRK2, one of the most commonly known genetic causes of Parkinson’s, are in clinical trials. Work like this is what the global Parkinson’s genetics program hopes to build upon. The non-profit foundation has long backed genetic studies, and diversity and inclusivity in clinical investigations.
Grants under this global program — with support from the Edmond J. Safra Foundation, a long-time partner of the Fox Foundation — will go to the following projects:
- In Africa, work to expand an existing registry to create a network of 4,000 Parkinson’s patients and 4,000 control volunteers in Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania. Through a partnership with the International Parkinson’s Disease Genomics Consortium, researchers at University of Lagos, University College London (UCL) and the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) will coordinate sample sharing and genetic sequencing.
- In East Asia, investigators in Japan, China, Taiwan, Vietnam and South Korea will leverage current samples from 6,200 patients and recruit 4,400 control volunteers for genetic sequencing. Through the consortium coordination, the sequencing will be directed by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, UCL, and the NIH.
- In India, researchers at Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology and the Institute for Clinical Epidemiology and Applied Biometry at the University of Tubingen in Germany will cull and study data and samples from 10,000 PD patients and 10,000 control volunteers.
“Parkinson’s is a global issue, and we are grateful to The Michael J. Fox Foundation for fostering representation in research,” said Njideka Okubadejo, a professor of research at the University of Lagos in Nigeria. “We hope this partnership results in greater understanding of disease causes and contributors, and leads to new treatments for people living in Africa and beyond.”
Parkinson’s is the second most common age-related neurodegenerative disorder (after Alzheimer’s), and estimated to affect 7 to 10 million people worldwide.