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Parkinson's Disease Foundation announces award of $150,000

(October 23, 2008, New York, NY) The Parkinson's Disease Foundation (PDF) is pleased to announce an award of $150,000 toward investigations studying the potential of individualized stem cell therapy to treat Parkinson's disease (PD).

The grant will support the research of Marina Emborg, M.D., Ph.D., and Su-Chun Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., both of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. This award was chosen as part of PDF's mission to fund scientific research that has great potential to increase our understanding of Parkinson's and to find treatments and a cure.

Dr. Emborg and Dr. Zhang will be conducting a pilot study that examines the use of transformed adult skin cells in the treatment of Parkinson's. Scientists can now direct the skin cells of a person with Parkinson's to become pluripotent stem cells (iPS), which appear to have similar potential to embryonic stem cells. This means that iPS cells can change into any other type of cell in the body, including dopamine neurons the very cells that are damaged in the brains of people with Parkinson's. Scientists theorize that transplanting replacement cells in the brains of people with Parkinson's could ease symptoms of the disease. Though technical challenges lay ahead with the iPS method, its discovery has allowed researchers to sidestep ethical and political debates associated with using embryonic stem cells.

Dr. Zhang's laboratory will examine the potential of iPS cells by reverting skin cells of Rhesus monkeys into iPS cells and directing the cells to become dopamine neurons. Next, Dr. Emborg and her colleagues will insert the dopamine neurons produced by Dr. Zhang's team into the brains of the same animals that donated the skin cells animals who, through use of a compound called MPTP, have a condition much like Parkinson's disease. Dr. Emborg will observe how well these cells survive and integrate in the brain and she will measure the cells' effect on the health of the monkeys. For example, she will monitor the animals for the development of tumors or immune reactions, as well as changes in their parkinsonian signs.

Dr. Zhang and Dr. Emborg hope that implanting the transformed cells back into the monkeys from whom they were originally taken will replace the dopamine neurons missing and damaged by Parkinson's disease. Dr. Emborg says that while their investigations are in early stages, if successful, they would bring us closer to developing a, "personalized regenerative therapy" for Parkinson's disease. One benefit to 'personalized' cell treatment is that it would avoid the issue of immune rejection that can be found with other stem cell therapies.

Dr. Emborg noted, "With funding from PDF, we can conduct preliminary investigations that should illuminate the potential of an exciting concept: treating people with Parkinson's with their very own cells."

Robin Anthony Elliott, Executive Director of the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, said, "PDF is pleased to support the research of Dr. Emborg and Dr. Zhang. This project reaffirms PDF's commitment to funding research of the highest caliber that may help us to understand and treat Parkinson's."

This grant is part of PDF's four-pronged approach to funding Parkinson science. PDF's traditional research initiatives include a Center Grants Program, which funds research at three leading universities; the International Research Grants Program, which provides seed grants to promising scientists studying the science of PD; career development and fellowship programs that support continued interest in the field of Parkinson's; and collaborative endeavors with other organizations that fund PD research. In fiscal year 2008, PDF contributed $5.5 million to support Parkinson's disease research.


Contact: Melissa Barry
Parkinson's Disease Foundation

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