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Northwestern Receives $2.1 Million Grant for Parkinson's Disease Research

October 19, 2004

Northwestern University has received a three-year, $2.1 million award from the Picower Foundation to study the molecular and cellular mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease.

D. James Surmeier, Nathan Smith Davis Professor and chair of physiology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, is the principal investigator on the grant.

Enrico Mugnaini, M.D., Edgar C. Stuntz Professor and director of the Northwestern University Institute for Neuroscience, and Mark D. Bevan, associate professor of physiology at the Feinberg School, are also participating in the research effort.

Parkinson’s disease is a common neurodegenerative disorder associated with aging. Symptoms include tremor, slowness of movement, rigidity and postural instability, which result from degeneration of dopamine-producing neurons .

The Picower Foundation grant will fund research aimed at understanding why dopamine neurons die and how the brain adapts to the death of these neurons, in the hope that understanding these processes will lead to new treatments for Parkinson’s disease.

The studies will take advantage of Northwestern’s broad expertise in neuroscience and molecular imaging to determine how living neurons adapt to conditions contributing emergence of symptoms in Parkinson’s disease.

This effort complements that created by the establishment of a Morris K. Udall Parkinson’s Disease Research Center of Excellence by the National Institutes of Health at Northwestern University last year. Surmeier is also director the Udall Center.

Currently, treatment options are limited for patients with Parkinson’s disease. The most widely used treatment for Parkinson’s disease, levodopa therapy, is aimed at restoring dopamine levels by enhancing release of the neurotransmitter from surviving dopaminergic neurons. Although initially effective in many patients with Parkinson’s disease, the benefits of levodopa therapy are relatively short-lived and are accompanied by unwanted motor side effects.

Deep brain stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus has provided relief of some motor symptoms in late-stage patients experiencing limited benefits from levodopa treatment, but it fails to alleviate many key symptoms.

The Picower Foundation supports a wide range of medical research, arts and educational programs across the United States. With a mission of helping people improve the quality of their lives by providing services that enable them to become productive, self-sufficient and healthy, the foundation concentrates on a variety of activities, including innovations in schools, curriculum development, after-school and summer programming, the arts, tolerance education and biomedical research.

Topics: University News, Research