$8.5 Million in Grants Awarded to Three Parkinson’s Research Teams

As reported in Parkinson’s News Today, three research teams are set to dig deeper into developing a potential diagnostic tool to diagnose Parkinson’s- an opportunity awarded in the form of grants totaling $8.5 million. The three winning research teams, AC Immune, Mass General Grigham, and Merck, were the finalists of the Ken Griffin Alpha-synuclein Imaging Competition. The $8.5 million grant, awarded by The Michael J. Fox Foundation, is seeking to create a specific diagnostic tool: one which can pick up on the protein alpha synuclein in patients while they’re still alive. This protein is believed to contribute to the development of symptoms, but currently can only be detected post-mortem.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disease that occurs later in life, affecting movement. The disease is progressive, damaging the central nervous system due to the abnormal death of neurons, which stunt dopamine messaging. It results in a gradual decline starting with a mild tremor and evolving into shaking, loss of balance, strong tremors, difficulty walking and speaking, and in worse cases, hallucinations and delusions. Most diagnoses occur after age 50. There is no cure.
The teams are tasked with finding a ’tracer,’ which is a type of molecule which can identify specific targets. In this case, the protein alpha synuclein.  The competition expects the teams to be able to show the tracers using a PET scan, which creates a 3D model of the brain and brain activity.

The Three Approaches

The different research teams awardees will take different approaches to the task at hand.
The AC Immune team have already found two molecule that are potential tracers. They plan to use the funding to test out their options in clinical trials alongside researchers at Lunk University and and Skåne University Hospital who have been involved in the study derived from the Morphomer discovery platform.
At Mass General Brigham, researchers intend to put their funds towards searching for a genetic component. They plan to rapidly evaluate a database with a huge library of DNA to see if they can find suitable genetic candidates.
The final team from Merck also have some head way in the project- having already identified a few molecules as potential tracers. They intend study these in clinical trials once they’ve zeroed in further.
This grant has given these research teams the ability to take their research to the next step. However, most clinical trials amount to just that- a trial with a negative conclusion. With such a large commitment of funds, the awardees hope a tangible new set of data will advance from this new opportunity. After the three teams work over the next couple of years, the team with the most promising work will earn another $1.5 million to progress their findings.

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