MJFF Supports Lundbeck Research in Diagnosing Parkinson’s

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by Mary Chapman |

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The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) is supporting efforts by pharmaceutical company Lundbeck to find a new way to diagnose Parkinson’s Disease patients earlier and more effectively.

With a $1.3 million DKK (Danish krone) grant ($197,000 U.S.), Lundbeck plans to develop and validate a diagnostic test that uses the cerebrospinal fluid that flows in and around the brain and spinal cord. Such a tool could speed initial treatments to patients. Currently, there are no specific tests to confirm Parkinson’s.

Study results will be shared with the pharmaceutical industry, academia and the Parkinson’s community in general.

“We are pleased to receive this grant from The Michael J. Fox Foundation,” Johan Luthman, executive vice president for research and development, Lundbeck, said in a press release. “We still see a great unmet medical need in Parkinson’s disease today, and hopefully this research can help diagnose the disease earlier and thereby improve the outcomes for patients,” he said.

The test that Denmark-based Lundbeck hopes to develop is known as a biomarker assay, a tool that can measure various substances in the body. Specifically, the assay seeks to gauge levels of Parkinson’s-associated alpha-synuclein. Parkinson’s is characterized by aggregates of this protein in the nervous system, particularly in the brain’s dopamine-producing neurons. However, how these aggregates form isn’t fully understood.

Nearly 20% of individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s have a different disease with symptoms similar to those commonly experienced by Parkinson’s patients, Lundbeck said. The main motor Parkinson’s symptoms include tremor, slowness of movement (bradykinesia), muscle stiffness, postural instability, gait difficulties and vocal changes. Non-motor symptoms range from depression and anxiety to hallucinations, memory problems and dementia.

For diagnoses, clinicians usually rely on symptoms, imaging tests and a levodopa test, in which a neurologist recommends a sufficient dose of the Parkinson’s therapy to see if it helps symptoms.

“A biological marker of Parkinson’s disease would transform patient care and research, allowing earlier and more accurate diagnosis and more efficient therapeutic testing,” said Luis Oliveira, PhD, MJFF associate director of research programs. “Aggregated alpha-synuclein is a leading biomarker candidate, and our Foundation is pleased to support Lundbeck toward measurements of this pathological protein.”

The nonprofit organization previously has supported Lundbeck projects focused on Parkinson’s antibodies, understanding the LRRK2 gene — whose mutated form is one of the most common genetic causes of Parkinson’s — and two new disease targets.

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