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The Parkinson’s Foundation allocates nearly $1 million each year to our International Research Grants Program to support novel high risk and high reward projects.This funding allows scientists to test the feasibility of their ideas, while generating the critical preliminary data that will lead to future funding from major institutions such as the National Institutes of Health. 

Highlight: Daniel Segal, Ph.D.: Learning from Other Diseases to Find New Treatments

Alpha-synuclein A protein in the human brain that is associated with the development of Parkinson’s. It is the main component of Lewy bodies. is the protein that clumps together and causes Parkinson’s disease (PD). If scientists could stop alpha-synuclein from clumping in the brain, this could potentially provide a new PD treatment.

With two years of Parkinson’s Foundation funding, Tel Aviv University’s Daniel Segal, Ph.D., developed a new molecule, based on quinone, a compound shown to inhibit certain cellular pathways, that may be able to do this. His molecule is small enough to fit into the brain, and is similar to another molecule shown to stop clumping in the protein that causes Alzheimer's disease A neurodegenerative disorder that results in loss of memory, thinking and language skills and behavioral changes. It is the most common form of dementia..

Dr. Segal found this molecule could effectively prevent alpha-synuclein from clumping together in a petri dish and that higher doses were more effective than lower doses. Now he is testing the molecule in animal models. His early tests in fruit flies found that treatment with this molecule resulted in improved motility (the ability to move around) as measured by climbing behavior in PD fly models having excess alpha-synuclein in their brains. He now will extend his testing to PD mice models.

If the molecule is successful, it could mean a promising new Parkinson’s therapy. Of course, human clinical testing would have to take place first to ensure that the molecule is safe and works the same way in humans as it does in flies and mice.

Highlight: Dance for Parkinson's: Funding Innovative Research that is Unlikely to Secure Funding Through More Traditional Sources

With Parkinson’s Foundation funding, Gammon Earhart, PT, Ph.D., of the Washington University School of Medicine, is examining the role of partnered dance in Parkinson’s. This study represents one of the first to examine the effectiveness of a long-term, community-based partnered dance exercise program for individuals with Parkinson’s and one of the first to evaluate the effects of exercise by assessing individuals who are off their medication. The initial results are promising, suggesting a clear improvement in disease severity (as assessed by the Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale, a gauge used to measure PD progression) in those who are exercising. This study also suggests that the benefits of six months of exercise are greater than those of three months of exercise, with benefits maintained at 12 months relative to the six-month time point.

This work paves the way for future studies to determine the relative effectiveness of different forms and doses of exercise for people with Parkinson’s and for studies of the mechanisms by which dance may convey benefits.

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