Michael J. Fox Foundation's Rapid Response Innovation Awards Hit Mid-2009 With More Than $1 Million Funded in High-risk/High-reward Approaches to Parkinson's Disease
--Richard Smeyne, PhD, of Saint Jude Children's Research Hospital will test the hypothesis that the virulent H5N1 (“bird flu”) strain of influenza virus can play a role in inducing parkinsonism. There is significant literature, mostly based on cases from the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918, documenting Parkinson’s disease following exposure to flu virus. The researchers hypothesize that flu can induce aspects of PD including cell loss, as well as to show how viruses access the nervous system.
--Wassilios Meissner, MD, PhD, of University Hospital Bordeaux (France) and Peter Tass, MD, PhD, of the University of Cologne (Germany) want to update deep brain stimulation surgery, taking advantage of new discoveries about the mechanisms of PD to expand DBS’s benefit to a wider range of PD patients. With MJFF funding, they are working in a pre-clinical model of PD to assess the practical potential of modifying abnormal synchronization in the brain’s basal ganglia region — an approach that, according to preliminary theoretical studies, could result in functional improvements for PD patients.
The Foundation has funded 20 Rapid Response Innovation Awards in 2009, and a total of over $6 million in awards since the program was first launched. Some Rapid Response projects from prior years have gone on to garner major additional funding to support the next stage of research, including clinical trials. These include D. James Surmeier, PhD’s 2007–2008 investigation of approved high-blood pressure drug isradipine as a neuroprotective approach to PD, which is currently being tested with MJFF support in a Phase 2 controlled clinical trial.
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 $143 million in research to date.