The Michael J. Fox Foundation to Fund $2 Million for Study of Midbrain System

Oct 22, 2003, 01:00 ET from The Michael J. Fox Foundation

    NEW YORK, Oct. 22 /PRNewswire/ -- The Michael J. Fox Foundation for
 Parkinson's Research today announced that it has committed $2 million to a
 research initiative supporting study of the nerve cell networks that are
 affected in Parkinson's disease.
     Parkinson's disease involves the severe loss of the brain cells that
 produce the chemical dopamine.  Among its other functions, dopamine helps
 regulate motor control throughout the body.   While considerable research is
 focused on the characteristics of the dopamine producing cells themselves,
 less attention has been paid to the neural circuitry -- interconnected network
 of brain cells -- of which these neurons are part.  Growing evidence suggests
 that greater insight into the entire dopaminergic system, including its
 development, will increase understanding of Parkinson's disease and heighten
 the likelihood of successfully developing new therapies, particularly those
 involving stem cells.
     "Right now we do not know enough about how dopamine neurons survive and
 connect within developing and adult brains to determine how to effectively
 protect, repair or replace them," explained J. William Langston, M.D., chief
 scientific advisor to MJFF and CEO of The Parkinson's Institute.   "Designing
 studies that will capture important information about the functioning of the
 local environment in the midbrain and the dopaminergic system we are trying to
 repair is crucial to refining new treatments."
     This new initiative has two areas of focus.  The first is to better
 understand the developmental biology of the normal brain's dopamine-regulating
 circuitry.  The second is the creation of alternative cell sources -- such as
 stem cell derived lines of dopaminergic neurons and/or support cells -- to use
 as laboratory models and ultimately as replacements for the cells lost to
 Parkinson's.  Optimally, researchers need to understand how dopamine neurons
 are intrinsically programmed to survive and make appropriate connections
 within the adult brain.  This is critical as there is increasing evidence that
 dopamine neurons and/or host tissues may require manipulation to promote the
 survival and function of transplanted neurons.
     "Dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra region within the midbrain
 are the most severely affected neuronal populations in Parkinson's disease,"
 said Deborah W. Brooks, MJFF executive director.  "Understanding the
 functioning of this system within the brain is essential to rapid development
 of therapies."
     Applicants are asked to submit a letter of intent no later than
 December 3, 2003.  Final applications are due by January 19, 2004 at
 5:00 pm EST.
     The program titled, Specification, Patterning, and Maintenance of Midbrain
 Dopaminergic Systems In the Normal and Parkinsonian Brain is one element of
 the Foundation's aggressive research agenda aimed at finding a cure for
 Parkinson's disease. To date, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's
 Research has funded nearly $30 million in research, either directly or through
 partnerships.  MJFF anticipates funding approximately $20 million more by
 early 2004. For more information on The Michael J. Fox Foundation for
 Parkinson's Research, visit

SOURCE The Michael J. Fox Foundation