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Parkinson’s Disease Foundation Opens $500,000 in Grant Funding, Urges Scientists to Address Key Unmet Needs in Patient Community

New Awards Fund Translational Patient-Driven Research Projects

The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation® (PDF®) urges researchers to help solve, treat and end the unmet needs of the Parkinson’s community through its Translational Research Grants, an extension of the PDF Community Choice Research Awards Program. PDF’s investment of $500,000 will fund research projects to improve patient outcomes in four symptomatic areas identified by people living with the disease: cognitive change, dystonia, fatigue and gastrointestinal dysfunction.

The PDF Community Choice Research Awards are the first grant awards in the Parkinson’s community to set research priorities based upon the insights of those living with the disease. Since the awards opened in 2013, the community has identified areas of need that, if addressed, could significantly improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s. In response, PDF has funded multidisciplinary working groups to identify strategies for solving, treating and ending each one. The new awards will advance that early work by jumpstarting translational research.

“These awards are an opportunity for scientists to make a direct impact on the lives of people with Parkinson’s,” said James Beck, Ph.D., Vice President, Scientific Affairs, PDF. “While PDF’s ultimate goal remains finding a cure, it is also vital that we help people live better today.”

PDF welcomes clinical, pre-clinical, or basic research proposals that will directly impact our understanding of four target symptomatic areas in Parkinson’s — cognitive change, dystonia, fatigue and gastrointestinal dysfunction — as outlined below. Funds are available for one year with levels of support varying based upon the project needs, and capped at $100,000 per award.

Targeted Reverse Translation Areas

  • Cognitive Change: Proposals should address gaps of knowledge, which include: the heterogeneity of cognitive change in Parkinson’s, risk factors for cognitive decline, biomarkers of cognitive change, the relationship of cognition to other non-motor symptoms, the role of nutrition or exercise in cognitive change and the relationship of patient-reported outcomes to clinical measures of functional impairment.
  • Dystonia: Proposals should address gaps in knowledge, which include: the role of dopaminergic and non-dopaminergic transmitters in dystonia, the identification of circuit-level or molecular changes that are key to driving dystonic movements in Parkinson’s and the identification of novel therapeutic targets for treatment. Also of interest are the development of models relevant to dystonia in Parkinson's and the characterization of a clinical study population best suited for studies (e.g., imaging).
  • Fatigue: Gaps in knowledge and possible research directions are summarized by PDF working groups in Friedman et al. 2016 (DOI: 10.1038/npjparkd.2015.25) and Kluger et al. 2016 (DOI: 10.1002/mds.26511). Proposals should seek to uncover the pathophysiologic basis of fatigue as well as further characterize phenomenological and epidemiological aspects of fatigue in Parkinson’s. Potential lines of research could examine biofluids for potential markers of fatigue or utilize fMRI or nuclear imaging to identify the neural basis to fatigue or the potential role of neuroinflammation.
  • Gastrointestinal Dysfunction: Proposals should address gaps in knowledge, which include: the need to accurately define Parkinson’s disease constipation and describe its phenomenology and the need to develop screening questionnaires to adequately collect relevant data. Investigations into the pathophysiology and natural history of constipation in Parkinson’s, using tools for motility monitoring or smartphone applications to facilitate frequent data collection, are also of interest.

Through the PDF Community Choice Research Awards, we asked, we listened and we engaged the community. Now, we invite scientists to help us find solutions,” said Daniel Novak, Ph.D., of Fort Worth, TX, Chair, PDF People with Parkinson’s Advisory Council. “It is encouraging to know that because of PDF’s vision, researchers will have the means to study some of the most debilitating, yet under-recognized aspects of Parkinson’s disease.”

Proposals that involve collaboration across disciplines and with the patient community are encouraged. Award decisions will be made in January 2017.

PDF will open its third survey for the Community Choice Research Awards to people with Parkinson’s and care partners in September 2016 to solicit additional feedback on unmet needs.

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