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Funded Studies

Alpha-Synuclein PET Tracer Discovery

Study Rationale:
The discovery of new treatments for Parkinson’s disease has been slowed by the time it takes to answer the question “did a drug work” in a clinical trial. Tests that can assess whether a new treatment is working would speed the pace of clinical trials in Parkinson’s. The studies described in this project aim to develop a new imaging test that to measure toxic clumps of alpha-synuclein protein (a defining marker of Parkinson’s) in the brain of living patients.

Imaging of alpha-synuclein protein in a patient’s brain will provide a new test for Parkinson’s disease that could be used to determine if new drugs are effective.

Study Design:
This project will build on imaging agents already discovered by Merck that require additional improvements before being ready for clinical studies. Funding will support chemistry efforts to improve the molecules' ability to bind tightly and selectively to the alpha-synuclein protein such that the imaging test is able to provide clear images of alpha-synuclein in the brain of people with Parkinson’s disease.

Impact on Diagnosis/Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease:
If successful, the discovery of an alpha-synuclein imaging agent can help determine more quickly and confidently whether a new treatment is effective in patients. Further, it will improve doctors’ understanding of the disease by relating a patient’s symptoms and disease progression to changes in alpha-synuclein.

Next Steps for Development:
The team will spend approximately two years making improvements to the current imaging agents. After this first phase, successful molecules will be tested for safety before moving into human testing.

Additional Support: 
Grants made through the Ken Griffin Alpha-synuclein Imaging Competition are made possible in large part through a leadership gift from Ken Griffin, Founder and CEO of the Chicago-based global investment firm Citadel. 


  • Anthony Jon Roecker, PhD

    West Point, PA United States

  • Eric D. Hostetler, PhD

    West Point, PA United States

  • Robert Edward Drolet, PhD

    West Point, PA United States

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