Promising Parkinson's Research

June 1, 2011
Michael J. Fox in ad for Parkinson's Research

Current Parkinson’s research is focused on developing therapeutics to address the symptoms of the disease; slow its progression; curb or contain dyskinesia, a common side effect of commonly prescribed Parkinson’s drugs; and target symptoms not related to motor functioning, such as depression and cognitive impairment, that affect a significant number of patients.

Michael J. Fox Foundation CEO Katie Higgins Hood ’96 says that one of the most exciting areas of research coming
to fruition is the race to identify biological characteristics—called biomarkers—of Parkinson’s. Certain biomarkers, called “progression biomarkers,” will help measure changes in neuron function as the disease advances and better treat patients at different stages of the disease. Diagnostic biomarkers can point out the presence of genetic mutations and particular proteins that may be responsible for Parkinson’s disease.

“If we can develop a blood or urine test that can detect Parkinson’s-specific proteins or enzymes,” says Hood, “drug regimens can be started early, before symptoms appear. Just in the last several months, we had seven companies come in to the MJFF biomarkers project to the tune of multiple millions of dollars.”

Called the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), the MJFF biomarkers project is an international, multi-site clinical study using advanced imaging and clinical and behavioral assessments to identify biomarkers of Parkinson’s disease progression. In keeping with the foundation’s goal of fostering accelerated Parkinson’s research around treatments and cures through collaboration, the PPMI includes plans to establish a comprehensive, standardized, longitudinal-data and biological-sample repository that will be accessible to the wider research community. Hood notes that the success of the PPMI depends in large part on getting enough people to enroll in the clinical trials.