Research Milestones

reading brain scans

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

The Parkinson's Foundation traces our roots back to 1957 when Jeanne C. Levey founded the National Parkinson Foundation in Miami and William Black established the Parkinson's Disease Foundation in New York. Experts including Drs. Melvin Yahr and H. Houston Merritt led this early Parkinson's research.

Early Milestones

We funded our first postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Roger Duvoisin, in 1962. That initial investment led to decades of PD advancements by Duvoisin:

  • In 1971, he 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.
  • With our funding, Duvoisin and his team described the Contursi kindred — the first description of inherited Parkinson's — in 1990.
  • Then, in 1997 Duvoisin and his colleagues made the breakthrough discovery of alpha-synuclein — the first gene associated with Parkinson's.

In addition to funding firsts, the 1960s brought other notable Parkinson's research advances:

  • 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 also 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 Yahr, a seminal paper on the natural history of Parkinson's.
  • That 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, 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.


To continue the rapid pace of PD discoveries, the Parkinson's Foundation began funding summer fellowships for medical students in 1971. These 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.


  • 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.
  • Drs. Stanley Fahn, M.D., and Ira Shoulson, of the University of Rochester, a Parkinson's Foundation Center of Excellence, set up the Parkinson Study Group in 1984. 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 Parkinson's patients, create a community of health care professionals dedicated to expert PD care.
  • Dr. Fahn and his colleagues developed the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale in 1987, 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 addition to Duvoisin's 1990 Contursi kindred description and 1997 breakthrough alpha-synuclein discovery, the 90s brought two other notable events:

  • In 1994, the foundation joined several other organizations to create a scientific research fundraiser, the Parkinson's Unity Walk.


  • And 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.
  • Started in 2009, the Parkinson's Outcomes Project is the largest-ever clinical study of Parkinson's disease with over 12,000 patients in four countries. This ground-breaking initiative enables us to track and monitor 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 support local communities across the country through grants that provide health, wellness, support and other critically important services in their area. 


We've also found ways over the years to pay tribute to those who have moved the world closer to a Parkinson's cure. In 1970, the Parkinson's Foundation created the James Parkinson Award.

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, received the award in 1973.
  • 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, received the award in 1997.
  • 2007: Dr. Stanley Fahn
  • 2017: Heiko Braak, M.D.

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. We'd love for you to join us. Whether you are a researcher, a person living with Parkinson's, a caregiver or community leader, every effort counts. Contact the Parkinson's Foundation Helpline at 1-800-4PD-INFO (473-4636) or to learn about the many ways you can help.


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