Rochester Helps Lead Global Parkinson’s Study

Michael J. Fox Foundation Taps Local Experts, Patients for Major Initiative

October 06, 2010

Irene Richard, M.D.

Patients, doctors and nurses in Rochester will be a key part of a major national research study initiated by the Michael J. Fox Foundation to identify biomarkers to track the progression of Parkinson’s disease in a precise way that is impossible to do today.

The study, known as the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative, seeks to fill a crucial gap: While doctors can generally predict the course that the disease takes in patients, there is no reliable, objective way to actually measure how the disease is progressing. A measure known as a biomarker, based on a biological measure that would be consistent among all patients, would help researchers measure the effectiveness of current treatments on their patients.

A reliable biomarker is also a critical tool to have in hand for scientists trying to identify new drugs to treat the disease. Currently there is no known biomarker for Parkinson’s disease.

The study of approximately 600 people around the world will include up to 30 people at the University of Rochester Medical Center, which is one of 18 participating sites worldwide. The Rochester site is led by neurologist Irene Richard, M.D.

During the five-year, $40 million study, patients who are in the earliest stages of Parkinson’s disease as well as counterparts without the disease will be monitored closely. They won’t receive treatment through the study; rather, doctors will administer sophisticated brain scans, observe the patients’ symptoms closely, and take blood, urine, and other biologic samples, all in an effort to find a marker or markers that correlate with the progression of the disease. Each person will be monitored closely for up to five years.

“This study asks crucial questions whose answers will help patients today and far into the future,” said Richard. “We need to find better ways to measure exactly how our patients are doing, and what effect treatments are having.

“We’re not measuring the effectiveness of a particular potential treatment; rather, we’re looking to develop ways which will help us measure whether many potential treatments are successful or not. It’s with great foresight that the Michael J. Fox Foundation has organized this study, which will have a long-term impact on the field,” added Richard.

The University’s Clinical Trials Coordination Center is heading a key portion of the overall study and is responsible for site management as well as the collection, tracking and performance of quality control on clinical data.

“This is an ambitious undertaking, no doubt,” said Michael J. Fox. “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.”

Funding for the study comes from the Michael J. Fox Foundation and a consortium of industry partners and donors, including Pfizer Inc., GE Healthcare, and Lily Safra, a member of the foundation’s board of directors.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease through an aggressively funded research agenda and to ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson’s today. The foundation has funded nearly $200 million in research to date.

The Medical Center is one of 14 sites in the United States taking part in the study and the only participating site in New York State. There are an additional four sites in Europe. More information about the study is available at http://www.michaeljfox.org/PPMI.

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