MJFF Funding 4 Studies Into Environmental Toxins and Parkinson’s

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by Forest Ray PhD |

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environment and Parkinson's

Funding from the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) will support four projects investigating possible connections between toxic environmental factors and Parkinson’s disease, including those encountered in military service and daily life exposure to pesticides and air pollution.

Although Parkinson’s is a complex disorder and unlikely to have a single cause, some environmental toxins associate with a greater risk of developing the disease. Identifying these toxins is vital to public health, and provides a basis for more detailed studies into their biological effects.

“Such information can be used to advocate for regulations limiting these exposures,” the MJFF wrote in a press release. “Those protections may reduce some risk of Parkinson’s disease.”

One study will compare the exposure histories of 200,000 U.S. soldiers with and without Parkinson’s participating in the prospective Millennium Cohort (MilCo) study.

Military service involves exposure to a variety of environmental substances, some of which may not have been studied before in the context of Parkinson’s disease.

Service members involved in the MilCo study complete environmental exposure and health surveys every three to five years. Questions explore toxins encountered both at home and on deployment. The project’s researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, suspect some of these exposures to be relevant to civilian populations as well.

In addition to MilCo survey responses, the investigators will acquire health and exposure information from the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense.

A second study will examine geographic clusters of Parkinson’s in the United States, seeking to identify environmental hazards in each. A Parkinson’s cluster is an area in which more people develop the disorder than would normally be expected.

This group hypothesizes that the different clusters will share similar environmental features, such as types of air pollution. These similarities might indicate more likely risk factors.

Data from 22 million Medicare recipients will be used to identify clusters of people newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and the environmental exposures of each location will be compared to other clusters and to the rest of the U.S.

Once a set of likely hazards has been identified, the research team at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, plan to investigate the biological mechanisms by which each toxin might contribute to Parkinson’s.

A third research effort will delve into the possible influence of pesticides in Parkinson’s development.

Pesticide exposure is one of Parkinson’s best-known and most-reported environmental risk factors. While certain pesticides like rotenone and paraquat are thought to associate with the disorder, less is known about other compounds.

Additionally, population-based studies of many pesticides is limited, and little data exists on physiological responses to many common pesticides.

Investigators at the University of California, Los Angeles, will review data on over 200 pesticides used in specific locations throughout that state between 1974 and 2018. The team will compare these data to the past home and work addresses of 1,870 volunteers in a population-based Parkinson’s study based in California’s Central Valley.

As in the prior project, this team also intends to investigate how each exposure might alter a person’s biology.

Finally, a project based in Finland will study the associations between exposure to 16 different air pollutants and the occurrence of Parkinson’s recorded in the Finnish Parkinson’s Disease Study. This population-based study includes over 22,000 people with Parkinson’s and 148,000 healthy volunteers serving as a control group.

Air pollutants have often been linked to Parkinson’s but the results of these studies can be inconsistent.

Researchers conducting this study will compare the occurrence of Parkinson’s and the levels of pollutants to both geographic locations and to different periods of time over two decades. The results may provide “critical information for development of prevention strategies and environmental policies,” the MJFF writes.

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