Michael J. Fox Foundation funds $2 million to solve midbrain system mysteries

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF) announced today that it has awarded approximately $2.1 million to fund 11 research projects studying the molecular and cellular signals that produce and maintain the midbrain dopaminergic system that degenerates in Parkinson's disease.

The awards were funded in part through a grant from the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation.

The Foundation launched this initiative in October 2003 in order to better understand the development of dopaminergic neurons and their relationship to the entire brain circuitry network. Understanding how the dopamine system develops and functions will shed light on the causes of PD and is an essential step toward progress in therapeutic strategies, most notably cell replacement.

"We have learned a great deal from recent research on embryonic stem cells, but we don't know yet how to transplant them successfully so that they integrate into the brain long-term as stable, functioning dopaminergic neurons," said Theo Palmer, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurology at Stanford and a member of MJFF's Scientific Advisory Board. "These projects seek to fill current gaps in understanding the molecular cues essential for the development, maintenance, survival and viability of dopamine neurons- whether they are a patient's own neurons or those derived from stem cells," Dr. Palmer noted.

"Each grant recipient was chosen because their study promises to dissect a different signal that instructs or maintains a brain circuit," explained Deborah W. Brooks, executive director, MJFF. "If successful, each project will supply a different piece of the puzzle, helping us translate these findings into meaningful patient therapies."

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