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Foundation awards $1.3 million in research grants to help solve, treat and end Parkinson’s disease

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF) has announced $1.3 million in funding for more than 30 investigator-initiated research projects to help solve, treat and end Parkinson’s disease.  Chosen through a competitive application process, the grants reflect PDF’s continued commitment to improving the lives and futures of people touched by Parkinson’s. 

“The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, through this latest selection of research grants, renews its most important promise to the community: to understand and help find the cure for Parkinson’s disease, and for as long as that search continues, to ensure that those families and individuals who live with Parkinson’s disease are able to achieve and maintain the best quality of life,” said PDF president Robin Anthony Elliott.

The research projects are chosen by PDF’s scientific advisory board, led by acting chair Un Jung Kang, M.D., and PDF scientific director Stanley Fahn, M.D. The projects are funded through PDF’s International Research Grants program, which supports innovative ideas of early-career scientists and its Fellowships and Career Development program, which supports training for future leaders in Parkinson’s research and care.

Malú G. Tansey, Ph.D., of Emory University School of Medicine, and Yoland Smith, Ph.D., of Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory, are recipients of a PDF-funded international research grant to study the role of inflammation in Parkinson’s, with the goal of advancing treatments.  Brain scans show people with Parkinson’s disease have more inflammation in their brains than normal, and population studies suggest drugs to treat inflammation may lower Parkinson’s disease risk. Dr. Tansey’s research group has shown the potential of an anti-inflammatory drug; the PDF-funded study will test the drug in monkeys.

“Scientists in today’s competitive funding environment face the possibility that our most promising ideas may go unexplored.  This is what makes funding from PDF so crucial,” said Dr. Tansey.  “PDF funding ensures that no stone—such as the potentially promising compound we have identified—goes unturned in the search for more effective treatments for Parkinson’s disease.”

Damien J. Ellens, M.D., a recipient of a PDF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, working with mentor Daniel K. Leventhal, M.D., Ph.D., at the University of Michigan, is using a new technique called optogenetics to better understand how dopamine impacts movement in Parkinson’s disease.  Dr. Ellens is focusing on a less-studied aspect of dopamine—its role in helping us to learn new movement.  He will study the dopamine neurons in rats as the rats learn a new motion.

Since 1957, PDF has dedicated $105 million to research. PDF is particularly focused on developing a strong pipeline of future leaders in research and care, and remains the largest private funder of specialized movement disorder training in the U.S. In 2014, PDF is funding three research centers and 39 scientific projects and training for nine clinical fellows, and supporting more than 15 scientific meetings, conferences and professional development awards for students.

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