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What We Fund: $309.1M Toward Disease Insights, Biomarker Advances and Drug Discovery

Researcher in a lab

The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) announces 90 grants that total more than $309.1 million awarded in April and May 2024. That total includes funding on behalf of the Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s (ASAP) initiative, for which MJFF is an implementation partner. 

The MJFF-supported projects seek to provide insights into the biology underlying Parkinson’s, improve disease detection and deliver better treatments. See full list of MJFF funded studies. 

Generating stem cells lines from donors with Indigenous heritage to improve research inclusion  

In 2023, analysis of DNA from people of African descent revealed a specific genetic change that appears to increase the risk of PD in African populations but not in others, highlighting why research needs to prioritize diversity. A new MJFF-backed effort promises to further improve diversity in PD research with induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines from individuals in another underrepresented group, those with North American Indigenous heritage. Aurelie de Rus Jacquet, PhD, at Laval University in Quebec, is leading the effort, which will produce and validate seven iPSC lines donated from members of the Indigenous community and make them openly available for use by the global PD research community. Made from adult cells and reprogrammed (induced) to become specific types of cells, iPSCs are useful tools for examining the molecular underpinnings of disease and testing novel therapeutic interventions. 

Developing a novel PD therapy to decrease neuroinflammation 

Inflammation in the brain is a key feature of PD that appears to damage dopamine-producing cells. Among the drivers of inflammation are signaling molecules called prostaglandins, and research suggests that blocking these prostaglandins could slow or stop the progression of PD. Investigators led by Jane Osbourn; PhD, at Alchemab Therapeutics in the United Kingdom have identified novel antibodies that target the prostaglandin pathway in PD. Now, with funding from MJFF’s Therapeutics Pipeline Program, they are conducting preclinical testing with a prostaglandin-targeting antibody-based therapy. Should they find their approach shows promise for reducing neuroinflammation and slowing PD, it would hold potential benefit for people at all stages of PD.  

Investigating a retina-based biomarker to predict disease activity in PD 

Patterns of stressed retinal cells in the eye can reveal information about the loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. Using retinal imaging technology, researchers have detected and tracked PD progression in preclinical models. Investigators led by Richard Nicholas, PhD, at Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust in the United Kingdom now aim to apply this noninvasive technology to study disease progression in people with PD. With funding from MJFF’s Biomarkers to Support Therapeutic Trials Program, their two-year study will enroll 40 participants for clinical assessments plus testing with the Detection of Apoptosing Retinal Cells (DARC) technology. If the study reveals correlations between retinal cell stress and PD clinical progression, it could advance DARC as a biomarker for identifying PD progression and for testing experimental treatments to reduce cellular stress. 

Exploring PD molecular markers to advance novel insights 

Parkinson’s is a complex disease, with a range of genetic, immunological and other molecular factors underpinning its development. Researchers have started to gain insights into these factors, but they still have many questions about the disease process. With funding from MJFF, investigators at Verily are developing a molecular data resource that uses clinical data and biospecimen samples from the Personalized Parkinson’s Project, along with advanced data analysis tools. The resource, which will be publicly available, is expected to support researchers in finding answers about PD’s infrastructure. In doing so, it holds potential to help improve how PD is diagnosed, tracked over time and treated.  

Expanding understanding of neuronal alpha-synuclein pathology in individuals with LRRK2 

Many people with PD have misfolded alpha-synuclein proteins in their brain and body. This misfolded protein is what last year’s breakthrough biomarker — the alpha-synuclein seeding amplification assay (SAA) — detects in people even years before visible symptoms develop. But some people with changes in their LRRK2 gene do not test positive on SAA tests, despite showing other signs and symptoms of PD, including the loss of dopamine-producing neurons. To learn more about the biology underlying disease in these individuals, researchers led by Lana Chahine, MD, at University of Pittsburgh, are studying how the proteins in their blood and spinal fluids differ from those in people with LRRK2 changes but a positive SAA test. Improved understanding of these differences can help guide the development of treatments targeting the disease. The research, funded with a supplemental grant from MJFF, builds on prior research to identify groups of individuals with PD who have unique protein patterns in their blood and spinal fluid. 

The Michael J. Fox Foundation continues to fund advances in technology and medicine to drive toward effective therapies that can prevent, slow or stop disease progression.  

You can be a part of that mission.  

The Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) is our landmark study on a mission to stop the disease. It is open to anyone over age 18 in the United States. Whether you have Parkinson’s or not, join the study that could change everything

Recently diagnosed with PD or live outside the U.S.? Connect with the PPMI team.  

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