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New NIH Funding Launches Parkinson's Biomarker Program

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has pumped nearly $5.2 million this year into a number of new research projects that seek to discover new biomarkers for predicting, diagnosing, and treating Parkinson's disease.

These nine studies, the first awarded through the new Parkinson's Disease Biomarkers Program (PDBP) will employ a range of genomic and molecular technologies to try to identify markers that could improve treatment and prognosis for patients with the debilitating disease, and potentially could diagnose patients before symptoms appear.

One of the characteristics of this degenerative disorder is the accumulation in the brain of protein-filled structures called Lewy bodies that are not observable until after a patient has died. But several studies have suggested that changes in proteins and other molecules in blood, urine, or cerebrospinal fluid are involved in the disease, hinting that they could be used as biomarkers for diagnosis and to improve existing therapies and develop new ones.

These first PDBP projects will test and collect clinical data on Parkinson's biomarkers and try to identify novel markers using genomic, metabolomic, proteomic, and other technologies for measuring and diagnosing the disease.

Under collaborations with the Parkinson's research community, NINDS plans to integrate its ongoing and future PD biomarker research projects into this program.

"Our goal is to accelerate progress toward a robust set of biomarkers for Parkinson's disease by supporting researchers who have strong leads or innovative approaches, bringing them together, and making it easier for them to share and analyze data across studies," said NINDS Director Story Landis.

The research under the PDBP will be supported by the National Institutes of Health's Data Management Resource, an online sharing platform developed by the NIH Center for Information Technology.

Among the researchers gaining funding under the program this year, University of Washington investigator Jing Zhang landed a $1.3 million award to pursue large scale discovery and validation of Parkinson's biomarkers in cerebrospinal fluid through a multi-pronged effort. Zhang's team will determine whether certain proteins already identified may be used in disease diagnosis or for monitoring its progression. They plan to expand the search for new markers using high-throughput targeted discovery and mass spectrometry techniques, and they will develop novel biomarker discovery techniques based on RNA sequencing or screening.

Pennsylvania State University scientist Xuemei Huang will use a $650,000 award this year to determine whether MRI scans can reveal structural and chemical changes in the brain, such as iron accumulation, during Parkinson's.

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas researchers Dwight German and Richard Dewey won $650,000 this year to fund their effort to find out if disease progression is linked to changing levels of antibodies and other proteins in CSF and in serum.

University of Pennsylvania investigator Alice Chen-Plotkin will use $480,000 this year to head a team seeking to confirm several candidate biomarkers that they have already identified and to use a novel protein-DNA aptamer-based technology to measure the levels of more than 450 proteins in the blood.

Johns Hopkins University scientist Ted Dawson received $610,000 this year to study the early clinical features of PD and to correlate those changes with possible blood and CSF biomarkers. His study will use a Thermo Vantage triple quadrupole mass spectrometer to identify specific post-translational modifications to proteins that are involved in PD pathogenesis to identify and differentiate individuals with the disease from healthy controls.

Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard University researcher Clemens Scherzer won $520,000 this year to investigate whether PD is associated with changes in the activities of non-coding genes in brain tissue, blood, and CSF.

Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories scientist Vladislav Petyuk received $310,000 this year to support an effort to use targeted proteomics to develop biomarkers for identifying biofluid from Lewy bodies in the brain and to find out if these markers may be found in CSF or blood as well.

Emory University investigator Dubois Bowman was awarded $300,000 this year to develop statistical tools from genetic, molecular, imaging, and clinical tests to discover biomarkers that could be better used to predict the course of PD.

University of Alabama at Birmingham scientist Andrew West received a $290,000 grant this year to investigate whether exosome-related proteins can be used as biomarkers from PD.