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Grant Supports Landmark Parkinson’s Study

Northwestern Medicine’s partnership with The Michael J. Fox Foundation is advancing critical research on the disease.

Doctors hero
Tanya Simuni, right, director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, with colleagues Danielle Larson and Neil Shetty

Spring 2021
“We Will” Update

More than 6 million people worldwide are affected by Parkinson’s disease — a lifelong movement disorder with symptoms that slowly worsen over time. Thanks to a new multimillion-dollar, multiyear grant from The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Northwestern Medicine will continue to participate in the MJFF-sponsored Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), which aims to identify biomarkers for the progression of Parkinson’s disease for use in clinical trials for novel therapies. Northwestern is one of 50 international sites participating in the observational study. 

Over the last decade, the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative has created a longitudinal clinical and biomarker dataset involving more than 1,400 participants worldwide. The project also has compiled standardized protocols for acquisition, transfer and analysis of clinical, imaging, genetic and biospecimen data that is available for use by the Parkinson’s disease research community.

Northwestern Medicine’s Tanya Simuni, the Arthur C. Nielsen Jr. Research Professor of Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders and director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center at Feinberg School of Medicine, received the award to continue her PPMI work in August 2020.

The latest grant from The Michael J. Fox Foundation will support Simuni and her team’s efforts in recruiting and following study volunteers from diverse cohorts to gather valuable clinical and imaging data and biological samples.

More than 6 million people worldwide are affected by Parkinson’s disease.

 

“While a number of diseases routinely use biomarkers in research and clinical practice, Parkinson’s disease still does not have such objective measures,” says Simuni, who also is chief of movement disorders in the Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology. “PPMI data are essential to developing better tools to advance and accelerate novel therapies for this increasingly common disease of aging.”

In early 2020 Simuni and colleagues published research findings for PPMI that revealed people who carry genetic mutations associated with an increased risk for Parkinson’s disease may exhibit minor symptoms before the disease progresses and affects a patient’s daily life. PPMI now plans to enroll 4,000 participants — including individuals who recently were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, carry Parkinson’s-associated genetic mutations or have clinical risk factors. These individuals will be observed by investigators for a period of five to eight years.

As a member of the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative leadership team, Simuni will be involved with data analysis and operational management of the study globally and for Northwestern’s study.

“PPMI is an incredibly complicated study, and I really have to thank multiple centers and programs at Northwestern for making it happen at our site,” she says.

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