Michael J. Fox Foundation Grants $7.7M for New Parkinson’s Research

Stacy Grieve, PhD avatar

by Stacy Grieve, PhD |

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New research projects focused on better ways to monitor and treat Parkinson’s disease were awarded funding recently by the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF).

From more than 200 funding proposals submitted to its 2018 spring funding program, 39 projects were funded. Selected projects primarily come from the United States (19), but funding also was granted to projects in 11 other countries.

The $7.7M in total funding includes programs that address the concerns of both patients and physicians: better treatments and better quality of life.

Two of the programs, Target Advancement and Therapeutic Pipeline, hope to uncover biological processes involved in Parkinson’s disease to develop new treatments.

The Improved Biomarkers and Clinical Outcome Measures Program and the Mitochondrial Biomarkers Program focus on studies that develop methods to predict disease onset and monitor its progression.

Led by Stella Sarraf, PhD, researchers at Amydis hope to develop a non-invasive eye-scan that can be used to measure alpha-synuclein — a protein implicated in Parkinson’s development — in retinal tissue. This tool would allow for more widespread screening, earlier diagnosis and better disease-tracking.

Caryl E. Sortwell, PhD, from Michigan State University, will test how a drug normally used to treat asthma or other breathing disorders can decrease alpha-synuclein production. Because studies have shown that individuals taking an asthma drug had lower risk of Parkinson’s disease, the effect of clenbuterol (marketed as Dilaterol, Spiropent, Ventipulmin) will be tested in a Parkinson’s preclinical model.

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Two other projects, from Fundacion Ciencia and Vida, Chile, and University of Georgia, will investigate if certain immune cells used for cancer immunotherapy, called CAR T-cells and natural killer cells, can target alpha-synuclein and protect brain cells in Parkinson’s disease.

German researchers will investigate if impaired daily living activities can be a predictor of Parkinson’s dementia, while Dutch scientists will assess an at-home speech therapy program using a mobile app and video conferencing with a therapist.

Samuel M. Goldman, MD, from the University of California, San Francisco will look at how exposure to certain pesticides increases the risk of Parkinson’s disease. Specifically, the team will look at how these environmental poisons affect mitochondrial DNA (a molecule whose impairment is observed in all forms of Parkinson’s disease).

“Our latest funding round builds on The Michael J. Fox Foundation’s longstanding tradition of supporting novel research poised for scientific breakthroughs that move the field toward patients’ greatest unmet need — therapies to prevent, slow or stop Parkinson’s progression — and better lives for those living with the disease today,” CEO Todd Sherer, PhD, said in a MJFF press release.