ENIGMA-PD Global 5-year Study to Investigate Brain Imaging, Genetics

Yedida Y Bogachkov PhD avatar

by Yedida Y Bogachkov PhD |

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A newly launched five-year, $3 million collaboration, called ENIGMA-PD, will investigate brain imaging, genetics, and clinical data in a global study of Parkinson’s disease.

Research efforts in more than 20 countries will be combined in the new project, created by the University of Southern California’s Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute, known as USC Stevens INI and part of the Keck School of Medicine.

The study’s goal, according to investigators, is to address some of the most crucial questions about Parkinson’s disease. Importantly, the project will help fund researchers in classically understudied regions in Asia and Africa.

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“This new grant will tackle some of the major puzzles about how PD [Parkinson’s disease] progresses in the brain, and how treatment can protect against those changes,” Paul M. Thompson, PhD, principal investigator of the new initiative and associate director of the USC Stevens INI, said in a university press release.

The project is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Part of the focus of ENIGMA-PD will be on whether different therapies, including medications such as levodopa, also known as L-Dopa, and surgical treatments such as deep brain stimulation (DBS), can effectively slow disease progression. Levodopa, available in tablet form or as a gel, is one of the primary medicines used to treat Parkinson’s motor symptoms, while DBS involves implanting a device to stimulate targeted regions of the brain.

The project also will investigate potential genetic factors contributing to the risk of Parkinson’s development — in particular among those with Asian versus European ancestry.

“What’s unique about this project is that it engages experts from across the globe, which will be crucial for understanding how Parkinson’s risk and progression may differ depending on a person’s genetic background,” Thompson said.

Some of the funding will be used to collecting data in geographic regions that historically have been understudied, including Taiwan, South Africa, and Siberia.

ENIGMA-PD builds on the accomplishments of the original ENIGMA consortium — fully, Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis — founded as an international effort in 2009.

That original consortium united neuroimaging researchers in 45 countries to study a variety of brain diseases and processes. The ENIGMA network has conducted some of the world’s largest neuroimaging studies focusing on specific brain diseases.

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Now, ENIGMA-PD will add to the INI’s ongoing work on Parkinson’s, which began with the launch of the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) in 2010. The PPMI study includes clinical, genetic, and imaging data from more than 1,400 individuals and is sponsored by the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

“PPMI has already advanced the critical search for biomarkers of Parkinson’s disease,” said Arthur W. Toga, PhD, director of the INI. Now, “ENIGMA-PD will amplify those efforts and help us continue to improve the prognosis for those living with PD,” Toga added.

ENIGMA-PD lead researchers have already been involved in a large international study analyzing Parkinson’s brain imaging data. In that study, scientists looked at structural changes in more than 2,300 brains affected by Parkinson’s, which they compared with some 1,100 brains not affected by the disease.

The team ultimately identified a pattern of tissue damage that began in the brain’s temporal lobes — most commonly linked with auditory and memory processes — and spread throughout the brain.

This finding is opposed to the previous thought that deeper regions of the brain are damaged first in Parkinson’s. Published in the journal Movement Disorders, in an article titled “International Multicenter Analysis of Brain Structure Across Clinical Stages of Parkinson’s Disease,” these results suggest that there might be multiple Parkinson’s subtypes with different disease courses and treatment.

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