MJFF and Edmond J. Safra Foundation Expand Network

The partnership funds medical centers to train clinician-researchers

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by Andrea Lobo |

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The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) announced it will expand the number and reach of Parkinson’s disease clinician-researchers around the world, in partnership with the Edmond J. Safra Foundation.

The Edmond J. Safra Fellowship in Movement Disorders aims to fund medical centers to train Parkinson’s doctors as clinician-researchers. These clinicians are neurologists specializing in movement disorders and further their training in recognizing distinct features of Parkinson’s and personalizing  treatments for each patient.

The goal is to offer a global network of high-quality patient care and invest in Parkinson’s research. Since the program began in 2014, the Edmond J. Safra Fellowship in Movement Disorders has trained 27 new movement disorder specialists worldwide.

The fellowship has evolved into a funding and training opportunity, and a peer-to-peer network. As the Class of 2022 — the fifth graduating class — is completed, the most recent graduates are taking the next steps in their careers, both in the care for people with Parkinson’s and researching the disease.

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“The Edmond J. Safra Fellows in training, alumni and directors are dedicated to the Parkinson’s community, and committed to accelerating [Parkinson’s disease] research for all people impacted by the disease,” Deborah W. Brooks, MJFF CEO and co-founder, said in a MJFF press release.

The fellowship now has extended funding to 28 academic institutions in eight countries and 12 U.S. states, and is committed to graduating 72 new Parkinson’s clinician-researchers by 2028.

With an estimated 6 million people with Parkinson’s disease worldwide — a number expected to double by 2040 — the demand for specialists is increasing. The fellowship is making a relevant contribution to growing the base of specialists worldwide.

This is particularly important because access to movement disorders specialists improves the quality of life for patients. A reduced number of these specialists brings issues for patients in reaching timely specialized care, including long appointment wait times and long travel distances.

“This growing global network of expertly trained movement disorder specialists will help ensure that people and families living with Parkinson’s receive comprehensive and compassionate care and that critical research moves forward to meet their most pressing needs,” Lily Safra former chairwoman of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation and MJFF board member, said in 2021. Safra, 87, died earlier this year.

For the most recent round of funding — the Class of 2025 — the external review committee of movement disorder specialists, gathered by MJFF, selected eight centers to train one fellow per center, for two years, beginning in 2023. The recipients are:

  • Charité — Universitätsmedizin in Berlin, Germany
  • Northwestern University in Chicago
  • University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada
  • University of Rochester, New York
  • University of Southern California in Los Angeles
  • University of Texas, Health Science Center in Houston
  • University of Tϋbingen, Germany
  • Westmead Hospital and University of Sydney.

Class of 2026

The MJFF is accepting applications from academic centers to train the Class of 2026. The review committee evaluates the candidates according to: previous training of clinician-researchers in movement disorders; the breadth and depth of clinical care; research, education; and training programs for fellows. The deadline for applications is Dec. 8.

Moreover, to support the contributions of fellowship alumni to Parkinson’s research, the MJFF and the foundation this year launched “The Edmond J. Safra Movement Disorders Research Career Development Awards.” It funds grantees two-year research projects in Parkinson’s and related conditions, while continuing to provide expert care to Parkinson’s disease patients and their families. Two recent alumni of the fellowship were selected by an MJFF staff review committee and external scientific advisers. They are:

  • Conor Fearon, PhD, at Dublin Neurological Institute in Ireland, part of the Fellowship’s Class of 2022, whose plan is to develop noninvasive biomarkers to diagnose and monitor Parkinson’s via eye movements and pupilar change; and
  • Anne Weissbach, MD, from Institute of Neurogenetics Lübeck and Institute of Systems Motor Science, in Germany, part of the Fellowship’s Class of 2020, who will use noninvasive brain stimulation to study Parkinson’s and dystonia (involuntary muscle contractions).

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