Research Milestones

Research Milestones

We've been pioneering Parkinson's disease (PD) knowledge, accelerating treatments and improving care for more than a half-century.

1960s - 1970s

These two decades brought many notable Parkinson's research advances:

  • In 1962, we funded our first postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Roger Duvoisin, who made decades' worth of breakthrough PD advancements.
  • In 1965, Columbia University Medical Center, with funding from the Parkinson's Foundation, opened basic science laboratories in the William Black Building.
  • In 1965, we sponsored the first of many scientific conferences: one discussing the thalamus and the other on the biochemistry and pharmacology of the basal ganglia.
  • In 1967, Dr. Margaret Hoehn, a Parkinson's Foundation postdoctoral fellow, published, with Dr. Melvin Yahr, a seminal paper on the natural history of Parkinson's.
  • In the same year, at our Columbia University Research Center, the pair went on to develop the first standard tools to measure Parkinson's progression — the Hoehn and Yahr scale.
  • In 1969, Dr. Yahr and Parkinson's Foundation colleagues published results of the first double-blind trial of levodopa, the first medication to truly relieve Parkinson's symptoms.
  • In 1971, Dr. Duvoisin developed the forerunner to the Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale — the Columbia University Rating Scale, which is still the second most widely used Parkinson's rating scale.
  • In 1971, to continue the rapid pace of PD discoveries, the Parkinson's Foundation began funding summer fellowships for medical students. These awards were the first to encourage young scientists to pursue Parkinson's research.

The 70s also brought relief for many people living with Parkinson's. Following up on his 1969 levodopa trial, Dr. Yahr and his colleagues — with funding from the Parkinson's Foundation and in collaboration with Merck, Inc. — published the first double-blind clinical trial of carbidopa/levodopa (Sinemet®) in 1971. It's now the gold-standard therapy for Parkinson's.


Breakthrough discovery of alpha-synuclein — the first gene associated with Parkinson's.


The Parkinson's Outcomes Project is launched, becoming the largest-ever clinical study of Parkinson's with more than 13,000 participants in four countries.


In the 1980s, the Parkinson's Foundation began investing in first-of-their-kind movement disorder training fellowships at Columbia University and Rush University. To date, these fellowships have trained more than 150 specialists.

  • In 1984, Drs. Stanley Fahn, MD, and Ira Shoulson, of the University of Rochester, a Parkinson's Foundation Center of Excellence, set up the Parkinson Study Group. This consortium of scientists focuses on advancing clinical trials to accelerate drug development.
  • In 1985, the Parkinson's Foundation established our Center of Excellence Network, which today consists of 45 designated medical centers worldwide that deliver care to more than 127,000 people with Parkinson's, create a community of health care professionals dedicated to expert PD care.
  • In 1987, Dr. Fahn and his colleagues developed the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale, now widely used in Parkinson's research and clinical trials.
  • In 1988, we collaborated with the United Parkinson Foundation to create a Junior Faculty Award that supports the research of early-career Parkinson's scientists.


  • In 1990, with our funding, Dr. Duvoisin and his team described the Contursi kindred — the first description of inherited Parkinson's.
  • In 1994, the Foundation joined several other organizations to create a scientific research fundraiser, the Parkinson's Unity Walk.
  • In 1997, Dr. Duvoisin and his colleagues made the breakthrough discovery of alpha-synuclein — the first gene associated with Parkinson's.


  • In 2002, our research team at Columbia University found evidence that Parkinson's requires the alpha-synuclein protein, a now well-known hallmark of the disease.
  • In 2008, researchers at Rush University, along with a team in Sweden, found the first evidence that Parkinson’s spreads from cell to cell.
  • Launched in 2009, the Parkinson's Outcomes Project was the largest-ever clinical study of Parkinson's with more than 13,000 participants across four countries. This ground-breaking initiative tracked and monitored the care over time of patients who are seen at Centers of Excellence.


  • In 2011, the Foundation launched Moving Day, A Walk for Parkinson's. The fundraising walk allows us to fund cutting-edge research, deliver quality care and provide free resources.

  • In 2013, the Foundation established the first-ever Community Choice Research Awards to identify and study research priorities identified by people with Parkinson’s.
  • In 2018, we conducted the most comprehensive Parkinson’s Prevalence Project in 40 years, establishing a new estimate of people with PD in the U.S.
  • In 2019, we launched PD GENEration: Mapping the Future of Parkinson’s Disease, the first-of-its-kind national genetics initiative that offers genetic testing for PD-related genes and genetic counseling at no cost for people with Parkinson’s.
  • In 2019, we funded four Parkinson’s Foundation Research Centers. These institutions received $2 million to launch Parkinson’s specific research studies that drive innovative developments.


  • In 2020, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) appointed the Parkinson’s Foundation to convene an international expert panel of the world’s most esteemed molecular geneticists and clinicians. Under the Foundation’s leadership, the Parkinson's Disease Gene Curation Expert Panel (PD GCEP) analyzes PD GENEration data.
  • In 2020, we launched Parkinson’s Foundation Surveys to advance Parkinson’s care through understanding the experiences of people living with this disease and widely sharing those experiences with the PD community.
  • In 2021, we launched the Reach Further campaign. Of its $30 million fundraising goal, $20 million will be dedicated to accelerating new treatments and investigating early-stage drug discovery and development.
  • In 2022, our incidence study found that 90,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s every year, which is 50% higher than previous incidence estimates.
  • In 2022, we partnered with Parkinson’s UK, to build a pipeline of new drugs exclusively designed for Parkinson’s through Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech. This initiative is directly investing in 13 medications that either address symptoms or aim to slow, stop or prevent the disease altogether. 
  • In 2023, our international genetics study, PD GENEration, reached the milestone of providing genetic testing and counseling to more than 7,500 participants through 26 participating sites and at-home testing. This marks the study reaching 50% of its recruitment goal of 15,000.
  • In 2023, we published a study that found critical gaps and disparities in access to Parkinson’s care. Among the findings, only 9% of Medicare beneficiaries with PD received care from a movement disorders specialist.

Take Part in Parkinson's Research

The only way we will find a cure for Parkinson’s cure is through research. Explore the different opportunities to get involved with Parkinson’s research.


In 1970, the Parkinson's Foundation created the James Parkinson Award to pay tribute to those who have moved the world closer to a Parkinson's cure. Recipients include:

  • 1970: Dr. Arvid Carlsson, a pioneer in the science of dopamine, was our first recipient. Carlsson received a Nobel Prize 30 years later.
  • 1973: Dr. Oleh Hornykiewicz, the scientist who discovered the link between striatal dopamine deficiency and Parkinson's.
  • 1987: Dr. Yahr, the research pioneer and our long-time affiliate received the award in 1987.
  • 1987: That same year, Dr. J. William Langston, who discovered in 1983 that MPTP was toxic and could cause Parkinson's-like symptoms, received the award.
  • 1997: Dr. C. David Marsden, explorer of the etiology, biochemistry, physiology, imaging, genetics, animal models and therapeutics of Parkinson's.
  • 2007: Dr. Stanley Fahn
  • 2017: Dr. Heiko Braak

Looking Ahead

Moving into the future we continue to build on the energy, experience and passion of our global community as we work to end Parkinson's. Help us advocate for Parkinson's research. Whether you are a researcher, a person living with Parkinson's, a caregiver, or a community leader, every effort counts.


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