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MJFF Bio-Hackathon Brings Research Teams Together to Tackle Alpha-synuclein Post-Translational Modifications in Parkinson’s

Bio-Hackathon research team group

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) organized a “bio-hackathon”, which brought together five teams of expert scientists to quantifying alpha-synuclein post-translational modifications in Parkinson’s disease (PD). The meeting, held at MJFF’s office in New York City on September 6 –7, provided a unique opportunity for research collaboration, fostering unique synergies between the teams, and bringing together applicants and reviewers earlier in the application development and review phase. 

Luis Oliveira, PhD, senior associate director of research programs added that, “seeing the collaborative environment created amongst the teams, in keeping with the true spirit of MJFF was incredibly exciting. The success of this collaborative effort moving forward could allow a characterization and recapitulation of alpha-synuclein pathology with unprecedent detail which could transform the pipeline for the development of groundbreaking therapies and biomarkers.” 

The meeting focused on alpha-synuclein post-translational modifications — changes that occur in the alpha-synuclein protein after it is produced in cells. These modifications are believed to play important roles in the abnormal changes in body functions in PD. Current modifications and through what mechanisms remains unclear. Absence of large systematic studies with reliable protocols, data sharing and validation of findings have contributed to this knowledge gap.  

To bridge this gap, MJFF issued a call for applications earlier in 2023, inviting researchers to propose innovative strategies and frameworks leveraging the use of cutting-edge technologies for quantitatively map post-translational modifications of alpha-synuclein in people without PD and those at various stages of the disease. Over 40 teams submitted letters of intent to the program during the initial round, and five teams were selected to participate in the Foundation’s Synuclein Solutions Bio-Hackathon, an in-person summit held at MJFF’s office in New York City.  

  • The invited groups presented, discussed and further developed their project plans utilizing real-time feedback from MJFF staff, external advisors and other applicants.  

  • Invited applicants were able to learn about each other’s strengths and weakness and tailor their project plans to be complementary. 

  • The meeting allowed for rapid and efficient communication around methodological details and experimental plans.  

  • The meeting allowed for networking opportunities amongst groups.   

“Bringing together applicants and reviewers prior to the submission of final proposals is a new approach to developing and reviewing proposals. Used correctly, this could lead to more efficient and collaborative science, which is essential for moving Parkinson’s disease research forward,” said Andrew Koemeter-Cox, PhD, senior associate director of research programs.  

MJFF envisions that funded teams will work collaboratively and as a network to validate and strengthen the dataset(s) generated through this program. With the Foundation’s resources and support, teams are also expected to work closely with MJFF advisors to deposit data, protocols and field-enabling tools in easily accessible repositories, with a requirement to publish results in open access formats.    

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