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Michael J. Fox Foundation launches competition to accelerate Parkinson’s fight

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The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) is aiming to speed the development of an imaging tracer to visualise the key protein alpha-synuclein in the living brain.

The award encourages independent scientific teams to race to develop a tracer compound to selectively bind to alpha-synuclein and illuminate its volume and location on a brain scan.

Of the estimated 6 million people worldwide who live with Parkinson’s disease (PD), the vast majority have clumps of the alpha-synuclein protein in the brain.

Scientists believe this clumping harms cells and results in symptoms of the disease. These clumps are visible only through post-mortem tissue analysis.

This is a foremost challenge in diagnosing the disease and monitoring its progression.

The ability to visualise alpha-synuclein in the living brain would open entirely new avenues in PD research and care. 

The new competition is funded in large part through a US$7.5m leadership gift from Ken Griffin, founder and CEO of the Chicago-based global investment firm Citadel.

“The Michael J. Fox Foundation has led the charge in advancing ground-breaking research in this field over the past twenty years,” he says. “I hope this partnership with the Foundation will bring us closer to a cure for the millions of people living with Parkinson’s disease.”

MJFF CEO Todd Sherer says: “Providing researchers and clinicians with the ability to detect and monitor disease would be revolutionary for the field and, most importantly, for patients.

 “Ken Griffin’s gift invigorates research toward this important tool, which will make a meaningful impact in the lives of everyone touched by Parkinson’s.”

The MJFF has funded independent studies and organised a consortium toward an alpha-synuclein imaging agent for several years.

In 2016, it announced a US$2m prize for the first team to show clinical evidence of a tracer and make it available to the research community at large.

While the pursuit continues, on October 15 at the Foundation’s 2019 PD Therapeutics Conference, biotechnology company AC Immune will share results from its MJFF-funded tracer trial.

The Ken Griffin Alpha-synuclein Imaging Competition is open now and accepting applications with the expectation of funding a total of US$8.5m to as many as three winning research teams.

The team that progresses furthest in two years or less will be awarded an additional US$1.5m to continue the work and bring the tool to life. Prospective research teams can apply at michaeljfox.org/funding.

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