MJFF Expands Fellowship Program for Movement Disorder Specialists

Six doctors given Parkinson's specialty this year, eight to start training in 2023

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by Mary Chapman |

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An illustration of a doctor conducting research in a laboratory.

To better care for the growing number of people with Parkinson’s disease and their families, the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) is expanding the size and reach of its global Edmond J. Safra Fellowship in Movement Disorders program.

The two-year fellowship supports medical centers in training a new generation of Parkinson’s physicians each year to be clinician researchers. Since its 2014 inception, the program helped 27 doctors in becoming movement disorder specialists. By 2028, it expects to graduate 72 such specialists worldwide.

A newly started award is also supporting continuing research by neurologists with movement specialist training, all graduates of the Safra fellowship program, the MJFF stated in its press release.

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About six million people worldwide currently are thought to have Parkinson’s, a figure expected to double by 2040.

To live with the progressive neurodegenerative disease as best as possible, it’s vital that each patient has a movement disorder specialist, according to the organization. Such neurologists can more readily recognize Parkinson’s symptoms and personalize treatment.

Michael J. Fox Foundation program has trained 27 neurologists since 2014

Six doctors were chosen to be fellows for the Class of 2022 at fellowship sites in Birmingham, Alabama; Gainesville, Florida; Philadelphia; Houston; Toronto; and London.

Eight centers, located in the United States, Germany, Australia, and Canada, were chosen to train the movement disorder specialist Class of 2025. Each center will recruit a fellow to start their two-year training next year.

MJFF is accepting applications from academic centers globally to train the Class of 2026. It will award eight fellowships of $180,000 each. Applications must be submitted by Dec. 8.

“This fellowship has paved a path for better access to care for millions of people and families living with Parkinson’s around the world,” said Deborah W. Brooks, MJFF’s CEO and co-founder. “The Edmond J. Safra fellows-in-training, alumni, and directors are dedicated to the Parkinson’s community and committed to accelerating [disease] research.”

To support research by fellowship alumni, the Edmond J. Safra Movement Disorders Research Career Development Awards opened this year. It provides funding to recent graduates to study Parkinson’s and related conditions to further fellowship network contributions.

Two recent graduates will begin two-year research projects. One recipient is Conor Fearon with this year’s graduating class, who follows his fellowship with a position as consulting neurologist at the Dublin Neurological Institute in Ireland. Fearon is working to develop Parkinson’s biomarkers to diagnose and track the disease.

The other awardee is Anne Weissbach, MD, with the Institute of Neurogenetics Lübeck and the Institute of Systems Motor Science in Lübeck, Germany. A 2020 fellowship graduate, Weissbach will study brain signals in individuals with inherited Parkinson-dystonia syndromes to gain a better understanding of Parkinson’s and dystonia, or abnormal muscle tone.

The Safra fellowship program exists through the support and leadership of the late Lily Safra, former foundation chair and MJFF board member.

“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,” Safra said last year. “I am deeply proud of the Edmond J. Safra Fellowship’s significant impact on Parkinson’s care and research.”