PDF announces $1M for 11 novel Parkinson's research projects

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The Parkinson's Disease Foundation (PDF) is pleased to announce awards totaling more than $1 million for 11 novel investigator-initiated research projects designed to understand the cause(s) of and find a cure for Parkinson's disease.

Investigator-driven projects are a core piece of PDF's philosophy to empower the community - of scientists, clinicians, people with Parkinson's and health care professionals - to find creative solutions benefitting the seven to 10 million people worldwide living with Parkinson's. The projects are funded through two key programs: the International Research Grants program and the Research Fellowships program, which both seek to encourage novel ideas by respectively funding "high-risk/high-reward" projects and supporting scientists in the early stages of their careers.

A review committee that was chaired by Robert Burke, M.D., and included PDF's Scientific Director, Stanley Fahn, M.D., chose the 11 projects, which range from basic science investigations of the cellular mechanisms that underlie the disease, to studies of potential new therapies. They also include ideas that may lead to symptomatic relief for the people who are living with Parkinson's today.

For example, Parkinson's research has typically focused on dopamine and its role in an area of the brain called the substantia nigra. Elena Vazey, Ph.D., of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, SC, will use her research fellowship to cast a wider net, studying the role of norepinephrine released from brain stem neurons and its impact on the brain as a whole. Initial research suggests that changes in norepinephrine in the brain may contribute to changes in cognition, sleep and mood in Parkinson's. Dr. Vazey's investigations may help us to better understand the impact of brain norepinephrine upon Parkinson's and the potential of norepinephrine-targeted therapies to treat the disease.

Her fellow awardees, Sarah B. Berman, M.D., Ph.D., and Edward Burton, M.D., D.Phil., of the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, PA, are using their International Research Grant to investigate a more popular topic, the role of the mitochondria (the power plant of the cell) in Parkinson's. But their approach is unique. They will look for clues about the mitochondria by observing their movements in transparent zebrafish. By recording the motion of mitochondria as they migrate within the dopamine neurons and axons of a living animal, Dr. Berman and Dr. Burton hope to yield new insights into the role of the mitochondria in Parkinson's.

PDF Executive Director, Robin Anthony Elliott commented on the nature of this year's projects, "Time is of the essence for people with Parkinson's. Part of our responsibility to the community is to provide promising scientists with opportunities to pursue creative strategies to understanding the disease. Each of this year's research projects, in its own way, represents an innovative approach to solving Parkinson's. We look forward to seeing how they progress. "

Thomas Shiftan, M.D., a PDF research advocate who was part of the review committee noted, "After seeing first-hand the scientific debate among some of the world's leading Parkinson's experts, I am hopeful that we are pursuing Parkinson's from every angle possible. I am glad to play a role in PDF's team - of researchers, advocates, clinicians and supporters - in making a difference for people living with Parkinson's."

International Research Grants | $825,000

Designed to promote innovative research projects that have high potential to significantly advance the knowledge of Parkinson's.

Evaluating the Role of Mitochondrial Dynamics in Parkinson's Disease in an In Vivo Vertebrate Model: Real-Time Live Imaging of Mitochondrial Dynamics in Dopamine Neurons in Whole Zebrafish
Sarah Berman, M.D., Ph.D., and Edward Burton M.D., D.Phil., F.R.C.P.
University of Pittsburgh

Impact of Low- and High-Frequency Electrical Stimulation on the Inputs, Integrative Properties and Output of the Subthalamic Nucleus
Mark Bevan, Ph.D.
Northwestern University

Telomere Biology in Patients with Incident Parkinson's Disease
Tobias Kurth, M.D., Sc.D., and Robert Y.L. Zee, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Brigham and Women's Hospital

Identification of Neuroprotective Factors in Tobacco
Leo J. Pallanck, Ph.D.
University of Washington

Small Aromatic Molecules as Novel Inhibitors of Alpha-Synuclein Aggregation Daniel Segal, Ph.D.
Tel Aviv University, Israel

Identification of Genes for Parkinson's Disease in an Isolated Greek Community and a Greek Population Cohort
Georgia Xiromerisiou M.D., Ph.D., and Henry Houlden M.D., Ph.D., M.R.C.P.
University of Thessaly, Greece and University College London, England

Research Fellowships | $250,000

Aim to generate interest in Parkinson's research and patient care among basic scientists and clinicians.

Functional Dissection of a Novel Dopaminergic Inhibitory Circuit in Parkinson's Disease
Jun Ding, Ph.D.
Harvard Medical School

The Regulation of Somatodendritic Dopamine Release
James Maas, M.D., Ph.D.
University of California, San Francisco

Evaluating Pedunculopontine Nucleus Stimulation as a Treatment for L-DOPA- Resistant Gait Disorders in Advanced Parkinson's Disease
Abirami Muralidharan, Ph.D.
University of Minnesota

The Role of Parkin in Regulating Mitochondrial Dynamics and Homeostasis in Cortical and Dopaminergic Neurons
Victor Van Laar, Ph.D.
University of Pittsburgh

The Locus Coeruleus as a Substrate for Parkinsonian Cognitive Inflexibility
Elena Vazey, Ph.D.
Medical University of South Carolina

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