MJFF Funds 36 Studies Totaling $6.3M

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by Forest Ray PhD |

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The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) is funding a variety of Parkinson’s disease studies, ranging from projects focused on environmental risk factors and exercise to therapeutic gene targets and new tests.

A total of 36 grants were awarded, amounting to $6.3 million.

Several of the MJFF-funded projects are investigating genes that might serve as therapeutic targets, including one examining a gene — CORO1C — that has not been linked to Parkinson’s previously.

“We fund the most promising, cutting-edge projects — from measuring lysosome function to exploring air pollution impact — to discover the therapies and strategies that will improve daily life for people living with Parkinson’s today and achieve a tomorrow without the disease,” the foundation stated in a press release.

Last year, researchers discovered that a mutation within the gene CORO1C associates with the presence of LRRK2 mutations suspected of playing a role in Parkinson’s. Some people with Parkinson’s show an overactive LRRK2 protein.

The discovery raises the possibility that CORO1C could be another target for medicines to treat the disorder.

Jordan Follet, PhD, one of the scientists who found the CORO1C connection, now is studying the CORO1CLRRK2 link in greater depth.

Two other MJFF-funded projects are evaluating how LRRK2 interacts with other Parkinson’s-relevant proteins such as tau and GBA.

Four other studies are investigating how certain toxic environmental factors such as air pollution and pesticides might influence Parkinson’s.

Occupational therapist Katrina Long manages an MJFF-funded program to help those with Parkinson’s maintain regular exercise routines. Although physical activity can improve Parkinson’s symptoms and may slow the disorder’s progression, many people struggle to remain on an exercise schedule.

Long’s program aims to support people’s motivation to stick with a program through setting goals and monitoring progress.

Furthermore, in collaboration with the Edmond J. Safra Foundation, the MJFF has launched the Edmond J. Safra Fellowship in Movement Disorders to provide specialist training in Parkinson’s to movement disorder experts. The goal is establishing a generation of clinician-researchers who can provide expert care while leading scientific advances.

The MJFF continues to fund the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), an observational study (NCT04477785) that documents and analyzes the full set of clinical features of Parkinson’s. Participants diagnosed with Parkinson’s, those who have certain risk factors without diagnosis, and healthy controls are invited to enroll.

Another grant supports the Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s (ASAP) initiative, which collaborates on the PPMI, to build a new set of stem cell lines from blood samples collected in the study, to be used in research.

Finally, the foundation is supporting the development of new tests to monitor Parkinson’s progression and the effect of various therapies.

One of these projects seeks to measure autoimmune responses against mitochondria — the energy generators of the cell — that take place in Parkinson’s. The researchers managing this project recently discovered that when two proteins disabled in early-onset Parkinson’s — PINK1 and parkin — are absent, immune cells inappropriately recognize and destroy the mitochondria.

Another test will assess the function of the lysosome, which is an organelle that helps clear away cellular debris such as old and dysfunctional proteins. Some LRRK2 mutations impair the ability of the lysosomes to perform their normal duties.

“The Michael J. Fox Foundation devotes our donor-raised dollars to promising scientific efforts that will help bring new treatments and cures to people with Parkinson’s,” the foundation stated.

A full list of all funded projects is available here.

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