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Michael J. Fox Foundation Awards $2.8 Million to Drive Development of Parkinson's Disease Biomarker Pipeline
Date:2/4/2010

NEW YORK, Feb. 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research today announced more than $2.8 million in awards for 13 new projects to speed the discovery of biomarkers of PD. The development of biomarkers is of critical importance to increasing the speed and efficiency of PD therapeutic development, allowing scientists and clinicians to more accurately identify appropriate subjects for clinical studies, measure disease progression and monitor treatment effects in clinical trials.

The lack of clear and reliable biomarkers of PD is one of the greatest hurdles to developing and testing new treatments that slow, stop or even prevent the disease — a key unmet need for Parkinson's patients.  In addition to improving the ability of researchers to diagnose PD and measure its progression, the identification of biomarkers would also help to provide more definitive outcomes from clinical trials.

In a paper published in the April 2009 edition of Neurology, David Vaillancourt, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, demonstrated that a type of MRI imaging technique known as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) can distinguish people with early-stage PD from people without the disease. Now with MJFF funding, Dr. Vaillancourt is working to determine if DTI can differentiate PD from other neurological movement disorders to provide additional evidence for the use of DTI as a PD biomarker. In a separate but related longitudinal study, Tanya Simuni, MD, of Northwestern University is testing whether DTI can be used as a marker of PD progression by tracking whether DTI detects changes in people with Parkinson's disease over time.

The development of drug biomarkers is also critical to provide researchers with a tool for conclusively assessing whether a given drug is reaching brain areas of interest and/or achieving its desired effect. Danna Jennings, MD, of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Disorders is working with a brain imaging molecule that can be used as a biomarker for drugs targeting a glutamate receptor in the brain known as mGluR5. Drugs that block mGluR5 (antagonists) have been shown in pre-clinical models to reduce dyskinesias, the involuntary movements that are a debilitating side effect of dopamine replacement therapy to treat PD. Dr. Jennings will use the imaging molecule to confirm that a clinically approved mGluR5 antagonist is reaching the brain at appropriate levels and to determine the most effective dose of the drug for use in future PD clinical trials.

The following is a complete list of funded projects, which are made possible through the generous support of The Brin Wojcicki Foundation. Grant abstracts and researcher bios are available on the Foundation's Web site, www.michaeljfox.org.

T-Cell Receptor Changes as a Biomarker of Parkinson's Disease

Chuanhai Cao, PhD, University of South Florida, College of Medicine

Analysis of the Enteric Nervous System Using Routine Colonoscopy Biopsies: a Biomarker of Neurodegeneration in Parkinson's Disease?

Pascal Derkinderen, MD, PhD, Department of Neurology, Inserm U913, Nantes, France

QE3 Trial Ancillary Biomarkers Study

Claire Henchcliffe, MD, DPhil, Weill Medical College of Cornell University

Development of an mGluR5 Imaging Marker for Parkinson's Disease

Danna V. Jennings, MD, Institute for Neurodegenerative Disorders

Assessing Heart Rate Variability in the Parkinson's Associated Risk Study Cohort

J. William Langston, MD, The Parkinson's Institute

Validating the Electrocardiogram as a Tool to Identify Pre-Motor Parkinson's Disease

J. William Langston, MD, The Parkinson's Institute

Validation of Neuroimaging Biomarkers for Nigrostriatal Neurons

Joel S. Perlmutter, MD, Washington University in St. Louis

The Role of Striatal Serotonergic Terminals in L-Dopa Induced-Dyskinesia in PD Patients

Paola Piccini, MD, PhD, FRCP, Imperial College London, England

Raising Antibodies to Alpha-Synuclein

Michael Schlossmacher, MD, University of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Biomarkers of Pioglitazone Effects in PD

David K. Simon, MD, PhD, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Harvard Medical School)

High Resolution Diffusion Tensor MRI Imaging as a Biomarker of Parkinson's Disease Diagnosis and Disease Progression

Tanya Simuni, MD, Northwestern University

High Resolution Diffusion Tensor Imaging in Parkinson's Disease and Parkinson's Plus Syndromes

David E. Vaillancourt, PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago

Development of alpha6-selective Neuronal Nicotinic Receptor Imaging Agent as a Parkinson's Disease Biomarker

Daniel Yohannes, PhD, Targacept, Inc.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation has been a leader in the development of PD biomarkers for several years, with investments of nearly $23 million to date. Recognizing the critical need for an orchestrated, fieldwide strategy to drive tangible progress, MJFF is also launching a comprehensive biomarker discovery and verification effort in 2010.


The Michael J. Fox Foundation is dedicated to ensuring the development of better treatments, and ultimately a cure, for Parkinson's disease through an aggressively funded research agenda. MJFF has funded over $170 million in research to date. 

SOURCE Michael J. Fox Foundation

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