The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research has awarded a total of $2 million to five research teams carrying out clinical studies to refine understanding of postural instability and gait disturbances (PIGD) in Parkinson's disease, and help speed the development of urgently needed treatments. The funding was made possible by a generous lead gift from The Edmond J. Safra Foundation, a steadfast supporter of The Michael J. Fox Foundation's mission to speed transformative treatments and a cure for Parkinson's disease.
PIGD encompasses a constellation of Parkinson's symptoms including freezing of gait, difficulty initiating movement, shuffling, falling and other specific problems with balance. No currently available PD treatments alleviate these symptoms. Their biological causes are not well understood and may originate outside the dopamine system, as these symptoms respond inconsistently or not at all to dopamine replacement therapy.
PIGD affects only a subset of Parkinson's patients, but is associated with highly troubling clinical features: a malignant and faster-progressing disease course; increased risk of cognitive deficits and dementia; a greater likelihood of needing to enter a care facility; and risk of falling 10 times higher than that of normal-aging elderly.
- A team at Northwestern University will build on the finding that many people with REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) eventually develop Parkinson's disease. The researchers will investigate the possibility that RBD and freezing of gait share common abnormalities in the brain and that RBD could serve as an early warning sign for risk of Parkinson's disease dominated by PIGD and freezing of gait.
- Researchers at the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research will use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to investigate how two specific regions may interact with other areas of the brain to control gait. They will also investigate whether freezing can be alleviated through repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) of one of these regions, the posterior parietal cortex (PPC). rTMS is a non-invasive method for stimulating specific areas of the brain surface through the skull.
- A team based in Sydney, Australia, will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in a virtual environment to safely trigger freezing episodes while visualizing patients' brains. The researchers aim to more fully establish which regions of the brain are activated during freezing in order to open new doors to the development of treatments.
As with all MJFF awards, continued funding is dependent on researchers' achieving predetermined milestones. A full list of awardees is below. Grant abstracts and researchers' biosketches are available at www.michaeljfox.org.
Role of the Posterior Parietal Cortex and Pedunculopontine Nucleus in the Pathopysiology of Freezing of Gait: An MRI and TMS study
Julien Cremers, MD, University Hospital of Liege and Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research
The Role of White Matter Pathology in the Development of the Postural Instability and Gait Disturbance (PIGD) Type of Parkinson's disease
Jeffrey Hausdorff, Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, Israel
Determining the Neural Correlates of Freezing of Gait in Parkinson's Disease Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)
Simon Lewis, MD, Parkinson's Disease Research Clinic, Brain & Mind Research Institute, University of Sydney, Australia
Relationship between REM Behavior Disorder and Freezing of Gait in Parkinson's Disease
Colum MacKinnon, Ph.D., Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois
Neuroanatomical Correlates of Dopamine Responsive and Non-responsive Gait and Balance Impairment in Parkinson's Disease
Wayne Martin, MD, University of Alberta, Canada
Michael J. Fox Foundation