Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Calls for Parkinson’s Research Proposals

José Lopes, PhD avatar

by José Lopes, PhD |

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Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is accepting funding applications from researchers who want to do basic science projects on neurodegeneration.

The goal is to increase scientists’ understanding of diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and attract new talent and ideas.

Grant recipients will become part of the CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network, an interdisciplinary collaboration aimed at increasing understanding of the biology that underlies neurodegenerative disorders.

Scientists can apply for two types of funding. One is an CZI Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Award for researchers who are in the early stages of their work. The other is a CZI Collaborative Science Award. It involves an interdisciplinary collaboration that includes a physician.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, started the initiative in 2016. The overarching goal is to cure all diseases before the end of the century.

The program’s focus has been basic research, which can be difficult to obtain funds for because of the long road between laboratory experiments and approval of therapies that arise from them.

Another reason for the basic research focus is that federal spending for such projects has leveled out, according to data from 2015. Federal sources provide less than half of all funding for basic research, compared with 70 percent in the early 1970s.

Scientists have done a lot of research on neurodegenerative diseases in the past several decades. But they need to know a lot more about their underlying biology before they can develop cures.

In Parkinson’s disease, for example, they still do not know why cells that produce dopamine die in a brain region called substantia nigra — and how they die.

The development of treatments for neurodegenerative disorders has led to many complications and a lot of disappointment. In January, Pfizer said it would terminate its research into Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s after years of unsuccessful results. And in February Merck announced the discontinuation of a Phase 3 clinical trial on an Alzheimer’s treatment, presumably due to lack of effectiveness.

The Neurodegeneration Challenge Network is bringing together outstanding scientists from different disciplines in hopes of shedding light on the basic mechanisms underlying neurodegeneration.

In calling for applications, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative notes that treatment development efforts “have focused on a relatively narrow set of ideas.” It said it hopes for approaches that reflect a “greater appreciation that these diseases may share common genes, pathways and cellular mechanisms.”

In addition to projects investigating disease mechanisms, it would consider funding the development of animal models that can better mimic neurodegenerative diseases in humans, and projects dealing with non-nerve cells sources of neurodegenerative diseases, such as the immune system.