$1.8M Earmarked for Cutting-edge Parkinson’s Research

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by Marta Figueiredo PhD |

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American Parkinson Disease Association projects

The American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA) has awarded $1.85 million to research projects focused on innovative tools and strategies to advance care and treatment of Parkinson’s disease for the 2021–2022 funding year.

For the second year in a row, ADPA’s annual research funding included specialized grants to projects focused on diverse and under-represented communities affected by Parkinson’s to ultimately improve care for all patients.

Grant applications are reviewed annually by the APDA Scientific Advisory Board, consisting of scientists with broad expertise in all areas relevant to Parkinson’s research. The advisory board meets not only to award research grants, but also to set the overall direction of the APDA’s annual research investment.

Selecting the most promising researchers and research projects “is an incredibly challenging decision-making process,” Rebecca Gilbert, MD, PhD, said in a press release. Gilbert is APDA’s vice president and chief scientific officer.

APDA “is steadfast” in its research focus, Gilbert said, by “identifying and supporting researchers early in their careers to encourage them to either commence or continue dedicating themselves to PD [Parkinson’s disease] research, as well as helping established investigators pursue new and novel ideas.”

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“With funding from APDA, these researchers can further develop their theories and obtain significant pilot data and initial proof of concept that enables them to apply for and receive larger grants from the National Institutes of Health and other funding institutions,” Gilbert said. “Without this initial funding from APDA, some research projects might never get off the ground.”

Since its foundation, in 1961, APDA has raised and invested more than $207 million to provide outstanding patient services and educational programs, raise public awareness about Parkinson’s, and support cutting-edge research meant to ultimately end the disease.

This year’s APDA’s awards include a George C. Cotzias fellowship (its most prestigious award), two Diversity in Parkinson’s Disease Research grants, three post-doctoral fellowships, six research grants, and continued funding for eight APDA Centers for Advanced Research.

The three-year George C. Cotzias fellowship is awarded to a young physician-scientist with exceptional promise to fund an innovative long-range project. This year’s winner is Abby L. Olsen, MD, PhD, at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who will focus on the therapeutic potential of glia, which are non-neuronal cells that play critical roles in brain function, in Parkinson’s.

This year’s Diversity in Parkinson’s Disease Research grants, spanning one year, were given to two researchers, one in Chicago and the other in Morelos, Mexico, focused on studying the use of rehabilitation services across diverse patient populations and characterizing Parkinson’s in the Mexican population.

The post-doctoral fellowships are designed to support early career post-doctoral scientists whose promising research focuses on Parkinson’s causes, effects on the body, and treatments.

Two of the awardees will work on advancing our understanding of the effects of alpha-synuclein — the protein that accumulates in toxic clumps in Parkinson’s — in human neurons, and of the recently discovered association between LRRK2 and glucocerebrosidase, two proteins independently linked to Parkinson’s.

The other researcher will investigate the use of deep brain stimulation (DBS) for brain functional mapping in Parkinson’s patients. DBS involves the surgical insertion of an electrode in the brain to deliver electric pulses to a specific area, which in the case of Parkinson’s treatment, is involved in motor function.

The six research grants will support investigators conducting innovative Parkinson’s research at major U.S. academic institutions.

The awarded research will focus on investigating the underlying mechanisms of vulnerability of dopamine-producing neurons, the nerve cells that are progressively lost in Parkinson’s, and on identifying RNA biomarkers of early Parkinson’s and new therapeutic targets associated with alpha-synuclein.

Other awarded researchers will investigate the therapeutic potential of exercise, astrocytes, and sono-optogenetic stimulation in reducing Parkinson’s-associated brain features and motor symptoms in rodent models of Parkinson’s.

Of note, astrocytes are non-neuronal cells that support nerve cells’ functions and health. Sono-optogenetic stimulation also is designed to stimulate specific parts of the brain like DBS, but instead of using implanted electrodes, it uses light to stimulate specific neurons genetically modified to respond to such stimulus.

The APDA renewed funding for its eight Centers for Advanced Research across the U.S., to support Parkinson’s trainee, fellowships, and early-stage discoveries programs, as well as later-stage clinical studies.

“The work being done as a result of the grants in this new funding cycle will have an incredible impact on the world of PD,” said Leslie A. Chambers, APDA’s president and CEO.

“This work is only possible because of the steadfast support of our generous APDA donors,” Chambers added.

More information about the awardees is available here. Apply here for the 2022–2023 research grants.

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