NEW YORK, Feb. 3 /PRNewswire/ -- Eight national and local Parkinson's disease groups teamed together to award approximately $4 million in research grants through the new Community Fast Track research initiative, led by The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF). The program officially named 18 projects which it will fund over two years through the investigator-initiated program, designed to stimulate novel, innovative and high-impact approaches to the field of Parkinson's research. Grant recipients were chosen from a large pool of international applicants assessed on the quality of novel science proposed as well as potential to increase understanding of Parkinson's and eventually translate findings into patient treatments. Among this year's awardees, three researchers will be receiving funding specifically to investigate Parkinson's disease for the first time. These three grants represent an early success for the program, which aims to attract new scientists from other research fields to study PD. "Community Fast Track offers a channel through which Parkinson's groups can contribute to an extremely selective peer-review award process," explained Deborah W. Brooks, executive director. "This collaboration is distinguished not only by the merit of each individual application funded but also by the power of the Parkinson's community as a whole to draw new researchers into the field and cultivate them for long-term development." Janusz B. Suszkiew, PhD, one of the portfolio's grant recipients receiving funding for the first time in the field of Parkinson's disease, will study the effect of nicotine on inflammatory agents within the brain. Inflammation of brain tissue is widely believed to play an important role in the degeneration of dopamine cells leading to Parkinson's disease. He theorizes that nicotine could have long-term neuroprotective effects by acting to suppress inflammation in the brain and provide the basis for development of new drug treatments for PD patients. Another grantee, Leo J. Pallanck, PhD, hopes to uncover new therapeutic approaches to treat PD through genetic studies of the disease. He will investigate the genetic factors underlying the toxicity of alpha-synuclein, a protein identified as a primary factor in Parkinson's. His research will contribute to the explanation of how alpha-synuclein kills dopamine neurons in the human brain, which may ultimately advance development of new Parkinson's therapies. "Many of the projects we have chosen are innovative because they ask new questions," stated Robert E. Burke, MD, Director of Laboratory Research in Parkinson's Disease and Related Disorders at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center and member of the scientific advisory boards of MJFF and the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. "However, this portfolio includes grants which are equally exciting and potentially groundbreaking because they offer a new perspective to standard questions and approach them from different angles." Kimberly Bjugstad, PhD, will revisit the issue of neural tissue transplants for Parkinson's disease patients, which despite high expectations from the scientific community have not yielded successful therapeutic results in PD patients. Using rat models of Parkinson's disease, Dr. Bjugstad will try to rebuild the nigrostratial pathway, the neurociruitry lost in PD patients. She anticipates that a clearer understanding of the reconstruction of this pathway, and development of new grafting techniques, will shed light on why transplants have failed to date. In addition to The Michael J. Fox Foundation, contributors to the program include: the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, National Parkinson Foundation, The Parkinson Alliance and the Parkinson's Unity Walk, the Parkinson Association of the Sacramento Region, the Parkinson Foundation of the Heartland, and Lawrence County Parkinson's Association. For a full list of grants, visit www.michaeljfox.org/research. To date, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research has funded nearly $35 million in research, either directly or through partnerships and anticipates funding approximately $10 - $15 million more by spring of 2004. For more information on The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, visit www.michaeljfox.org.
SOURCE The Michael J. Fox Foundation