Two Parkinson’s Organizations Issue a Total of $5.9M in Research Grants

research grants

The Parkinson’s Foundation and the American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA) have announced a combined $5.9 million in research grants.

For its part, the Foundation is investing $4.2 million in 46 grants to advance promising Parkinson’s disease investigations into new therapies and how the disease works. It also is awarding $8 million to four newly designated Parkinson’s Foundation Research Centers to design and launch studies over the next four years.

“The Parkinson’s Foundation is committed to moving the needle forward in new treatments, medications and better understanding symptoms and disease progression,” John Lehr, the Foundation’s president and CEO, said in a press release. “These research grants are a critical component in our mission to make life better for people with Parkinson’s by improving care and advancing research towards a cure,” he said.

Ranging in length from several months to three years, the awards will go to clinicians and postdoctoral researchers, as well as established scientists. In addition, this grant cycle adds the Melvin Yahr Early Career Award in Movement Disorders Research, created to support post-residency neurologists. The two-year $50,000 grant will support study into brain inflammation in Parkinson’s patients.

“This award is critical for my early independent career development and will help me establish a research program of my own,” said Yulan Xiong, assistant professor at Kansas State University and Stanley Fahn Junior Faculty Award recipient. “The support from the Parkinson’s Foundation will help us better understand a critical PD-related gene. We expect this study will lead to new discoveries in Parkinson’s disease.”

The $8 million in institutional grants — $2 million for each center — will go to Columbia University Irving Medical Center, the University of Florida in collaboration with Emory University, the University of Michigan in collaboration with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and Yale School of Medicine. These recipients were chosen based on criteria such as research novelty and the ability to address unmet needs in Parkinson’s research.

More information about Parkinson’s Foundation research grants is available here.

At the American Parkinson Disease Association, researchers have been granted $1.7 million for study programs including T-cells and their disease role, genetic factors among Hispanic populations, and the prospects of telehealth psychotherapy in relieving depression.

Awardee highlights include Vikram Khurana, MD, PhD, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, winner of the three-year George C. Cotzias Fellowship, the APDA’s most prestigious grant.  He will seek to learn how alpha-synuclein mutation or over-expression affects mRNA regulation in Parkinson’s, which could helpscientists to identify new therapeutic targets and potential gene therapies.

Livia Hecke Morais, PhD, California Institute of Technology, is a post-doctoral fellow who will study microbial brain interaction in Parkinson’s neurodegeneration to understand the relationship between gut bacteria and the disease. This ultimately may lead to the design of new therapies that target gut bacteria for treating Parkinson’s disease.

Research fellow Brian Daniels, PhD, Rutgers University in New Jersey, will investigate RIPK3, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, as a driver of  inflammation in Parkinson’s disease.

Research fellow Xianjun Dong, PhD, Harvard Medical School in Boston, will explore the possibility of a novel link between genetic susceptibility and Parkinson’s disease.

“We are excited for these researchers to dig deep into their work, and have hope for meaningful outcomes that can make a difference for people living with PD,” the APDA announcement stated.

A list of awardees and descriptions of research projects is available here.

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APDA Meets to Discuss Grants, Diversity in Parkinson’s Research, Support, and Care

APDA Grant Research

The American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA) recently hosted two groups of experts who assessed scientific projects vying for funding, and addressed diversity issues in Parkinson’s disease research and care.

The organization met with its scientific advisory board (SAB) to decide which grant projects it will fund for the 2019-2020 academic year. Grants are based on overall significance and field impact, appropriateness of the project’s chief investigator and scientific environment, and feasibility of the project’s proposed budget and end date. Funding decisions will be announced in August.

The APDA also hosted its first-ever Diversity in Parkinson’s Research Conference, which focused on needs surrounding the disease in diverse and under-served communities. Attendees included researchers investigating Parkinson’s in ethnic and minority populations, and clinicians who treat such patients.

Panel discussions included an overview of APDA diversity initiatives, research about biomarkers in diverse populations, disparities in Parkinson’s clinical trial enrollment, and what the field of hypertension can teach Parkinson’s investigators about access to diverse communities.

Currently, most Parkinson’s research focuses on relatively older white men, the APDA said. The organization wants to expand investigations to include more patients of varying ages, genders, races and ethnicities. It also wants more access among these groups for care, programs and services.

”APDA’s mission is to help everyone impacted by Parkinson’s disease live life to the fullest, and we mean everyone,” Leslie A. Chambers, APDA president and CEO, said in a press release.

The organization plans to establish an annual grant to support research focused on closing diversity gaps. For now, it offers an annual $50,000 post-doctoral fellowship, and multiple $75,000 research grants. The three-year $300,000 George C. Cotzias Fellowship supports early-career physician-scientists. In addition, the APDA awards its Centers for Advanced Research $100,000 each year to support PD investigations. (Visit this site for more information on APDA-funded research.)

”It’s so exciting to see the fascinating ideas outlined in the grant submissions,” said Rebecca Gilbert, MD, PhD, APDA vice president and chief scientific officer, of the current crop of proposals. “Proposed research projects included everything from ways of detecting a diagnosis of PD in the blood, to exploring ways that telemedicine can improve the lives of patients with PD. The SAB certainly had their work cut out for them and made some tough choices,” she said.

In addition to deciding who gets new grants, the SAB receives updates during annual meetings about previously funded research. During the May 16 meeting, for example, members were apprised of the latest research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where scientists are focused on advances in the role of brain inflammation in Parkinson’s development and progression. The SAB also heard from Washington University School of Medicine researchers studying imaging biomarkers for Parkinson’s.

David Standaert, a leading Parkinson’s researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, also is the SAB’s chairman. He called the Diversity in Research Conference a “fantastic” first step toward finding answers.

”Together, I think we can do great things to make both our research and services more inclusive and accessible,” he said.

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Parkinson’s Foundation Grants $1.5 Million to Programs in 38 States

Parkinson's Foundation grants

In support of local health, wellness and educational programs, the Parkinson’s Foundation is granting $1.5 million to Parkinson’s community programs in 38 states.

Grants range from $5,000 to $25,000, and focus on programs that either help underserved Parkinson’s disease communities, target newly diagnosed patients, or advocate for clinical trial education and participation.

“We are proud to announce these community grants and expand programs and resources in Parkinson’s communities across the entire nation,” said John L. Lehr, Parkinson’s Foundation president and CEO. “These grant recipients share our passion and commitment to making life better for people with Parkinson’s.”

In the past eight years, the organization has funded some 338 community-based programs that seek to meet unfulfilled patient needs.

A full roster of this year’s community grant awardees can be viewed here.

One of those recipients explained how the grant will benefit Parkinson’s patients in her community.

“We are deeply honored to have been awarded a Parkinson’s Foundation grant and are very excited at the opportunity to join current recipients in improving the everyday life of individuals with Parkinson’s,” Karen Weisinger of the Calvin Chin’s Martial Arts Academy in Newton, Massachusetts, said in a press release.

“Thanks to the Parkinson’s Foundation, we look forward to bringing this unique tai chi program to people with newly diagnosed PD,” she said.

Tai chi is an internal exercise system that combines breathing with slow, gentle movements to improve the flow of energy (chi) through the body, to quiet and calm the mind and emotions and improve overall health and well-being.

Tai chi has been found to be effective in reducing falls, which could be of extreme importance for those with Parkinson’s, who many times see their balance deteriorate as their condition progresses.

The Parkinson’s Foundation seeks to enhance life for patients by improving care and driving investigations toward a cure.

All funded programs are designed to help Parkinson’s patients live better-quality lives. They include education, wellness, dance, art, boxing, cycling, yoga, nutrition, caregiver support, and music therapy.

Researchers have found that Parkinson’s patients who exercise at least two-and-a-half hours a week also experience a slower decline in their quality of life. Specifically, more recent studies have focused on the concept of intense “forced” exercise, such as boxing, suggesting that certain types of exercise may be neuroprotective by actually slowing disease progression.

Yoga focused on mindfulness — a mental exercise focused on accepting oneself in the present — also has been found to lower anxiety, depression and motor impairment in people with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease.


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MJFF and Silverstein Foundation Jointly Award $3M Supporting Research into GBA Mutations

Parkinson's grant awards

Some 10 percent of Parkinson’s patients carry a mutation in the GBA gene, making it the most common genetic risk for this disease. With a goal of learning more about these mutations, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) and the Silverstein Foundation for Parkinson’s with GBA is awarding $3 million in grants.

Specifically, projects chosen aim to shed more light on the effect of glucocerebrosidase beta acid (GBA) mutations, and GBA’s overall function. They also hope to advance treatments against this target.

“Defining the GBA pathway and its role in disease, including in patients without a GBA mutation, could point to new therapeutic approaches that may slow or stop Parkinson’s,” Todd Sherer, MJFF’s chief executive officer, said in a press release. “This partnership with the Silverstein Foundation streamlined the grant process to more quickly direct funding to these promising projects.”

GBA mutations impede activity of the glucocerebrosidase (GCase) enzyme that breaks down damaged or excess cell parts, such as lipids and cellular proteins. Accumulations of cell parts can be toxic, leading to the cell damage seen in Parkinson’s disease.

While directly associated with GBA gene mutations, GCase hindrance is also found in patients without mutations. That’s why treatments to rouse the enzyme’s activities or imitate its effects may benefit people with Parkinson’s in general, the MJFF said.

MJFF and the Silverstein Foundation winnowed 92 proposals to 16. In the area of GBA biology, the following projects hope to find novel biomarker candidates or treatment targets by studying the role of GCase and effect of GBA mutations:

  • Two projects that look at other genetic factors that influence Parkinson’s risk with a GBA mutation.  Tim Ahfeldt, PhD, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is using gene-editing technologies (CRISPR) to alter the expression of GBA and other genes, in the hopes of identifying additional risk factors. Justin Martin O’Sullivan, PhD, at the University of Auckland will use computer technology to identify genes controlled by certain mechanisms within the GBA gene and how these contribute to Parkinson’s disease.
  • Two projects are using other technologies to study the cellular effects of GBA mutations. One, led by Ricardo Feldman, PhD, at the University of Maryland, uses induced pluripotent stem cells; the other, led by Anthony Futerman, PhD, at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, is applying advanced RNA sequencing and proteomics analysis to brain tissue samples from those with idiopathic (of unknown cause) Parkinson’s, those with GBA-associated Parkinson’s and healthy volunteers.
  • A study led by Manoj Kumar Pandey, PhD, at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center will investigate about how GBA mutations may lead to inflammation, while another led by Michel Desjardins, PhD, at the Université de Montréal, will fuse on the role of GCase in autoimmune mechanisms.
  • Research led by Emily M. Rocha, PhD, and J. Timothy Greenamyre, MD, PhD, at the University of Pittsburgh will focus on connecting deficits in GCase with another top genetic target — LRRK2 — while exploring the potential of LRKK inhibitors in Parkinson’s patients.
  • Three projects are investigating other cellular players — prospective treatment targets — in the GBA pathway.

In the category of GBA biomarkers, two projects are hoping to aid in subject selection and therapeutic impact assessment through objective measures that may benefit patient care as well as research.

The area of GBA therapies has three projects testing compounds against GCase, and one project — led by researchers at Rheostat Therapeutics — testing to see whether activators of the ion channel TRPML1 can repair lysosomal malfunctions associated with GBA mutations. Lysosomes are special compartments within cells that digest and recycle different types of molecules. 

“We are very pleased with the collaboration with the Michael J. Fox Foundation and feel confident that the projects chosen will significantly add to the library of knowledge around GBA and propel new treatments for people living with Parkinson’s and, perhaps, individuals at risk for the disease,” said Jonathan Silverstein, founder of the Silverstein Foundation.

The non-profit Silverstein Foundation invests mainly in promising new ways to treat and prevent Parkinson’s disease in GBA mutation carriers. The MJFF is the globe’s largest non-profit founder of Parkinson’s research. It has supported both pre-clinical and clinical work in GBA1 since 2006.

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