MJFF Awards $8.8M in Grants Supporting Wide Range of Parkinson’s Studies

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by Mary Chapman |

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MJFF research grants

The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) has awarded more than $8.8 million in wide-ranging grants to scientists aiming to better understand, diagnose, and treat Parkinson’s disease (PD).

The 49 grant awards align with the Foundation’s mission to find a cure for this progressive neurodegenerative disease, and to improve patients’ quality of life.

“Support from our donors allows us to advance research to better define the biology and experience of Parkinson’s; measure disease risk, onset, and progression; and treat the underlying disease and its symptoms,” the organization states in a press release.

A total of $1 million will support four projects exploring how Parkinson’s develops and progresses, with the overarching goal of finding new measures and treatments.

One grant recipient is Lalitha Madhavan, an MD and PhD with the University of Arizona. She and her team are developing a human cellular system to help in the early identification and study of Parkinson’s mechanisms. Specifically, they want to develop dopamine neurons and patient-derived skin cells — called fibroblasts — for use in evaluating in clinical trials potential Parkinson’s therapies and biomarkers.

About $2.8 million will support 29 projects focused on Parkinson’s diagnosis, progression, and treatment effectiveness. Those projects include work led by Stella Sarraf, PhD, and her team at pharmaceutical company Amydis. Researchers will use the MJFF grant — their second — to continue developing a way to diagnose Parkinson’s via changes in the eye. Specifically, they are designing a non-invasive tool for detecting clumps of alpha-synuclein, a protein whose accumulation is associated with Parkinson’s, in the retina. Currently, Parkinson’s diagnosis relies largely on neurological and physical exams.

Five projects awarded $4 million in grants seek to improve patients’ quality of life, and advance potential disease cures. One, led by David Yurek, PhD, at the University of Kentucky, is investigating whether a gene therapy approach can be used to express a factor in brain cells that lowers the alpha-synuclein clumping that damages these cells. A hope is to develop a gene therapy showing the safety and efficacy necessary for testing in patients.

Another MJFF grant supports a Phase 2a double-blind and randomized clinical trial (NCT04506073) testing allogeneic  mesenchymal stem cells — stem cells derived from a donor’s bone marrow — in lowering brain inflammation. This single-site trial in up to 45 patients, due to open in October, will be led by Mya Schiess, MD, at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Because chronic inflammation is associated with Parkinson’s progression, reducing inflammation could allow damaged brain cells to heal, slowing or stopping disease progression. If successful, investigators expect to advance the treatment into a larger clinical trial.

More than $1 million also went to 11 projects that support foundation efforts to build a research infrastructure — including laboratory tools and patient data — to enable and advance studies. Two awards went to Abcam, an MJFF partner that specializes in research tools. Abcam plans to use the funding to develop monoclonal antibodies for use in Parkinson’s studies.

More information on recent MJFF-supported projects can be found on this site. Go here to learn more about how to help researchers better define, measure, and treat Parkinson’s disease, which affects an estimated seven to 10 million people globally.