The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research has announced its support for a pioneering Kiwi project fighting Parkinson's disease from a promising new angle.
Established by actor Michael J. Fox in 2000, the world-renowned charity is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson's disease (PD). The Foundation has become the largest non-profit funder of Parkinson's disease research in the world.
Parkinson's is a progressive neurodegenerative condition caused by a lack of dopamine in the brain, resulting in slow and awkward movement. Fox, best known for his roles in Back To The Future, Doc Hollywood, and Spin City, partly retired from acting soon after going public with his own battle against the disease 20 years ago. He has since gone on to become one of the world's best-known advocates for research toward finding a cure for the disease which has had so much impact on his own life.
His Michael J. Fox Foundation has just joined another United States charity, the Silverstein Foundation, in putting $226,000 toward a potentially ground-breaking New Zealand study, according to The New Zeland Herald. That project focuses on a genetic mutation that poses one of the biggest risk factors for Parkinson's disease, which affects about one in 500 Kiwis and millions more around the world.
The new study, led by University of Auckland Associate Professor Justin O'Sullivan, will draw on a powerful 3D genome-mapping tool created to reveal the connections of GBA to other genes. Researchers think parts of the gene may be acting as "DNA switches" and disrupting the functioning of other genes that GBA comes into contact with through the way DNA is coiled inside cells.
According to O'Sullivan, some of the more unusual findings about GBA might be able to be explained if it has connections to other genes.
"If we are right, we will identify a network of inter-related Parkinson's genes," he said. "This may help advance research efforts for therapies, and bring together previously confusing or unrecognized connections."
O'Sullivan added that this major grant from the high-profile Michael J. Fox Foundation offers an amazing opportunity to investigate a disorder that has had a huge impact on so many people. The researchers hope to make insights that ultimately bring a real difference to patients' lives. The project could be the first step to better understanding other disorders as well.