The Michael J. Fox Foundation has announced a new $6 million effort to investigate the causes of Parkinson's disease.
The multi-team initiative, PATH to PD, is focused on identifying molecular/cellular events that may play a role in the onset and progression of PD, whether in the presence of environmental exposures, genetic factors, or aging. To date, PD researchers have learned that Parkinson's arises from multiple, complicated gene-environment interactions. According to the foundation, the past two decades have seen substantial growth in understanding of the disease and a strong appreciation of the role of genetics and the cellular pathways they influence. The emerging research picture of Parkinson's is that of a vast, interwoven network culminating in a disease with great variability in cause, rates of progression, symptomology, and treatment responses.
Through the initiative, three research teams will receive $2 million each over two years to conduct holistic investigations of the nexus of genetics, environment, and aging. The Environmental and Genetic Mechanisms of Parkinson's team will seek links between environmental and genetic triggers of disease through investigations of the mechanisms by which neurotoxins cause neurodegeneration and how these pathways interact with known genetic factors such as LRRK2, a leading genetic cause of PD. The Foundational Data Initiative will grow nerve cells and use advanced "omics" techniques (genomics, proteomics, metabolomics) to map how various genetic changes lead to cellular and molecular changes associated with PD. And the Aging and Parkinson's Disease team will investigate how cellular aging and related DNA and mitochondrial damage contributes to neurodegeneration.
"The vast diversity of pathways implicated in Parkinson's pathology to date indicates that multiple physiological routes can lead to PD, and these routes may intersect or be temporally dependent," said MJFF chief executive Todd Sherer. "Through PATH to PD, our foundation aims to encourage researchers to bring a holistic new approach to bear on refining today's understanding of what Parkinson's is — so that we can better strategize how to slow or stop the disease."