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Landmark Study Seeks Biomarkers of Parkinson's Disease

Northwestern joins Michael J. Fox Foundation in $40 million five-year study

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September 29, 2010 | by Marla Paul

CHICAGO— Northwestern Medicine’s Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center has been selected as one of 18 official study sites for the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), a landmark observational study that aims to identify the biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease. By using a combination of advanced imaging, biologics sampling and behavioral assessments to track newly diagnosed patients, researchers hope to gain knowledge that will improve the diagnosis of patients and accelerate the development of breakthrough treatments for the future.

“Parkinson’s is a disease without a clear-cut diagnosis and without a cure,” said Tanya Simuni, M.D., associate professor of neurology, director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center and principal investigator for the trial at Northwestern.  “While significant strides have been made in the development of drugs to manage the disease, hope for the future lies in the development of new drugs to slow or stop the progression of Parkinson’s.”

Simuni and her colleagues have been at the forefront of Parkinson’s research for years, but explain that the missing link for the next generation of therapies is the identification of biomarkers or objectively measureable characteristics that indicate the presence of the disease. 

An estimated one million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s disease. Together with study sites across the United States and in Europe, Northwestern will play a critical role in this collaborative effort to further Parkinson’s research. The study is sponsored by the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease 19 years ago said, “This is an ambitious undertaking, no doubt. But nothing worth having comes easily. Everything we’ve learned up to now, the partnerships we’ve worked to forge, the results of research we’ve funded -- it’s all put us in position to launch this effort. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and, hopefully, get this done.”

PPMI study participants will undergo numerous tests and assessments of bodily processes related to Parkinson’s, but will not receive an experimental drug or treatment. This study will use a combination of imaging techniques, collection of blood, urine and spinal fluid, and clinical tests to track for potential changes that could indicate the progression of the disease. Northwestern hopes to enroll 20 subjects beginning in September who will be followed for approximately two years.

For more information on the study and the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center, please visit http://www.parkinsons.northwestern.edu/. 
Topics: University