Parkinson’s study receives $6M grant

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Dr. Hong-yuan Chu. Courtesy Van Andel Institute

Van Andel Institute (VAI) scientists will benefit from a grant to further a Parkinson’s disease research project led by a team from Emory University.

The three-year, $6.3 million grant from the Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s (ASAP) Collaborative Research Network will further the team’s studies into motor cortical disturbances caused by Parkinson’s disease (PD). The grant was issued by ASAP’s implementation partner, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

The team consists of researchers from Emory University, VAI, the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate in Brooklyn and Inscopix in Palo Alto, California.

Dr. Hong-yuan Chu of VAI will head the institute’s team of researchers on the project led by Dr. Thomas Wichmann, associate director for scientific programs at Emory’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center. The team also is led by other researchers from Emory/Yerkes.

The coordinated study will explore motor disturbances caused by PD, providing the team a better understanding of potential treatment methods that may directly target the brain’s cortical nerve cells. The cerebral cortex plays a significant role in controlling movement, as dopamine produced by brain cells is instrumental in movement coordination. The death of these dopamine-producing brain cells leads to the motor disturbances commonly associated with the disease.

“Parkinson’s is a complex disorder that has long evaded attempts to fully reveal its underpinnings and, as such, has stymied attempts to slow or stop disease progression,” Chu said. “I am hopeful our mechanistic studies will reveal new insights into the brain circuits impacted by the disease at the cellular and synaptic levels and provide a path forward for new therapeutic development.”

PD is a progressive, neurodegenerative disorder that affects approximately 1 million people in the U.S. and more than 6 million people worldwide.

The team will investigate the activity and connections of large groups of specific types of cortical neurons by using technologies and working with animal models of PD.

“Our research will examine one of the enigmatic aspects of the disease: the involvement of the cerebral cortex in the manifestations of (Parkinson’s),” Wichmann said. “Characterizing abnormalities in specific cortical neurons, such as our team plans to do, is critical for developing new therapies that target the affected circuits through deep brain stimulation as well as medications and genetic methods.”

ASAP’s mission is to accelerate the discovery of potential treatments for PD through collaboration, research-enabling resources and data-sharing.

“We are very excited to participate in the ASAP Collaborative Research Network,” Wichmann said. “This is a fantastic opportunity to work with some of the best groups in the country to increase our knowledge of Parkinson’s disease, from genetic and molecular changes to large-scale alterations of brain network activities. We hope our work will eventually lead to more effective and specific treatments for Parkinson’s disease with fewer side effects than seen with the currently available approaches.”

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