Michael J. Fox Foundation Announces New $7M Initiative to Support Parkinson’s Research, Therapy Development

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by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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Michael J. Fox Foundation

The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) announced a new $7 million funding program to support Parkinson’s disease research and accelerate development of new therapeutic targets and biomarkers.

Through the program, researchers can request project funding in four major research areas. The organization is now accepting pre-proposals through May 2018, with funding anticipated by November 2018.

“We are working diligently toward breakthroughs for people with Parkinson’s and are committed to helping make therapy options available to treat the disease,” Todd Sherer, PhD, chief executive officer of MJFF, said in a press release. “The targeted funding programs announced today will fuel cutting-edge research in areas of significant scientific potential, providing multiple shots on goal.”

One of the four research areas will dedicate $2 million to study nonpharmacological interventions for gait and balance disturbances, two of the most troubling and under-addressed aspects of the disease.

Parkinson’s patients suffer from frequent falls, injury, loss of independence, and decreased quality of life due to problems with gait and balance. Current therapies are insufficient to improve challenges in this area.

The program will fund research projects seeking to gain a deeper insight of the brain circuitry and clinical experience of gait and balance problems. It will also fund studies to investigate the therapeutic benefit of assistive devices, novel technologies, or rehabilitative therapy programs. Excluded from this funding are exercise programs or cognitive strategies.

An additional $1.5 million will be geared toward studying the protein alpha-synuclein, the major component of Lewy bodies, protein clumps found in virtually every Parkinson’s patient’s brain and body cells. To test if Lewy bodies may play a causal role in the disease’s onset and progression, the program will fund researchers seeking to deepen understanding of alpha-synuclein and refine therapy development.

The foundation has also allocated $1.5 million to fund projects investigating GBA protein dysfunction and mutations in the GBA gene in Parkinson’s and speed learning toward practical therapies.

GBA mutations are among the most common in Parkinson’s disease, found in 5 to 10 percent of patients. However, alterations of the normal GBA protein have been found in patients who are not carriers of the GBA mutation, making it a particularly promising target in the development of new therapeutic targets.

A fourth area of research will have a dedicated budget of $2 million. The program will fund researchers seeking to develop and test biomarker assays in three relevant areas: protein handing/autophagy, exosomes, and lipidomics.

Objective measures of Parkinson’s risk, onset, and progression are critical to transform patient care and therapy development. Biomarkers are not only useful to enable an early and accurate diagnosis, but they are also particularly important for more efficient, cost-effective clinical trials. To date, no objective biomarker for Parkinson’s has been developed.

The deadline for pre-proposal submissions is 5:00 p.m. EST May 31, 2018.

MJFF will host an informational webinar at 12:00 p.m. EST May 10 to review the aims of the program and to detail funding process and applicant questions.

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