Skip to main content

What We Fund: $34.2M Toward Light Therapy for Sleep, Freezing of Gait and More

Two researchers in a lab

The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) announces 63 grants that total more than $34.2 million awarded in February and March 2024.  

Here we review some of the supported projects aiming to advance our understanding of Parkinson’s disease (PD) and improve assessment tools and treatments. See full list of MJFF funded studies. 

Finding tests to measure disease progression  

Last year researchers announced a breakthrough biomarker that detects the presence of misfolded alpha-synuclein protein, a hallmark of Parkinson’s biology. Called the alpha-synuclein seed amplification assay (SAA), the biomarker makes it possible for the first time to detect the signature biology of PD objectively in living people. Now MJFF continues efforts on biomarkers by supporting the development of tools that can not only detect whether misfolded alpha-synuclein is present but also whether it is increasing or decreasing. Such “quantitative” biomarkers are essential to clinical trials because they could provide drug companies an objective way to assess whether experimental therapies have the potential to effectively alter biological progression.  

Five projects with the potential to deliver clinical trial-ready quantitative biomarker tests within the next two to three years received funding. MJFF will announce more details of the projects in May. 

Seeking new ways to diagnose and treat gait problems in PD 

People with Parkinson’s commonly experience freezing of gait (FOG), a motor symptom that impairs walking ability, leads to falls and diminishes independence in PD. Effective treatments for FOG remain elusive. Multiple research groups received funding to learn more about FOG and support the development of better therapies.  

  • Standardized and accurate assessment of FOG is needed to develop and test novel therapies, but current assessment tools are imprecise. Fifty Parkinson’s experts joined to form the International Consortium of FOG (IC-FOG) and develop better outcome measures. A multicenter study led by Jeffrey Hausdorff, PhD, at Tel Aviv University, now aims to evaluate the measures in over 100 participants who experience FOG. The study is designed to help move the field closer to standard outcome measures that clinicians, researchers, and industry stakeholders can use to reliably evaluate FOG severity and assess the efficacy of new treatments for FOG.  
  • Research led by Kimberly Kwei, MD, PhD, at Columbia University Irving Medical Center focuses on finding connections between changes in the brain’s neural pathways and worsening gait and movement symptoms. The researchers aim to use their findings to develop gait assessments that inform PD diagnosis and reveal whether implanted spinal cord stimulators effectively reduce FOG. Kwei received funding for this research through the Edmond J. Safra Movement Disorders Research Career Development Award.

Examining a new protocol for deep brain stimulation 

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a well-established therapy that interrupts the abnormal patterns of brain activity associated with motor symptoms in Parkinson’s. Researchers led by Aryn Gittis, PhD, at Carnegie Mellon University, have discovered a new pattern of DBS stimulation that appears to provide long-lasting therapeutic effects using significantly less active stimulation time compared to what is currently used. With funding from MJFF, they are planning to assess the effects of their DBS protocol and optimize its application in preclinical models. If further testing supports its use, the approach holds potential to reduce the risk of DBS-related side effects and potentially repair, rather than mask, circuit dysfunction in disease. 

Assessing the impact of light therapy for reducing PD symptoms 

Sleep disturbances are common in Parkinson’s. With earlier funding from MJFF, researchers at Queensland University of Technology, led by Beatrix Feigl, MD, PhD, demonstrated that cells in the eye that provide the main light signal to the brain for initiating sleep are impaired in PD. They have developed a light therapy to selectively illuminate these cells, called melanopsin. Now with additional funding from the Therapeutic Pipeline Program, they are conducting a four-week study to assess the impact of daily exposure to this lighting technology on melanopsin cell function and on sleep and motor behaviors in people with PD.  

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.

We use cookies to ensure that you get the best experience. By continuing to use this website, you indicate that you have read our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.