Officials for the Boston University Medical Center announced on Monday that it will join the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative’s newly expanded study of uncommon risk factors of Parkinson’s disease.
Samuel Frank, associate professor of neurology at BUMC, said this new research initiative expands on a study launched in 2010 by PPMI and that it could lead to important discoveries on how to both identify and treat patients with Parkinson’s.
“This is an important study that is helping to bring our understanding of Parkinson’s disease beyond what James Parkinson in the early 1800s did,” Frank said. “… It brings Parkinson’s into a modern era.”
The new research initiative will study people who do not have Parkinson’s, but show certain genetic and blood markers that may put them at a higher risk of developing the disease in the future, Frank said.
Frank said the ultimate goal of the project is to find a way to better diagnose and track the progression of Parkinson’s as well as to find a way to slow the disease’s development and delay its onset.
“If we can intervene with a medication that slows the progression, then we might be able to delay the onset,” Frank said. “That’s at least ultimately the goal … The whole project is important because we are finding better ways to diagnose and track the progression of Parkinson’s disease. That was how it was originally set up with the original cohort.”
Researchers will primarily focus on subjects in their 40s, 50s and 60s who show Parkinson’s risk factors such as a reduced sense of smell, rapid eye movement, sleep behavior disorder or a mutation in the “LRRK2” gene, which is often associated with Parkinson’s.
Frank said if one of these risk factors shows a direct connection to the development of Parkinson’s, it could further the research of therapies that could slow or stop the disease’s progression in patients.
He also said BUMC is currently one of 23 other sites from around the world participating in this $55 million landmark observational clinical study, Frank said.
“We are hoping to get hundreds of participants from around the world,” Frank said “… In total, we essentially want to double the size of the study with the other half of the people who don’t have Parkinson’s but are at risk. We are looking at both men and women in this study and people of all regions of the world.”
Funded by The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and its 13 industry partners, PPMI has worked for the past two years to identify the most consistent biomarkers of PD progression through neuroimaging and the collection of various other fluids, according to a BUMC press release.
“PPMI aims to find reliable and consistent biomarkers of Parkinson’s disease progression,” the release stated. “Valid measures could allow scientists to predict, objectively diagnose and monitor diseases in both Parkinson’s disease patients and populations at-risk to developing Parkinson’s.”
Volunteers can participate in PPMI’s new initiative by completing a brief survey and test regarding their sense of smell. Those above the age of 60 without Parkinson’s are encouraged to take the survey on the Michael J. Fox Foundation’s website.
Todd Sherer, CEO of MJFF, said in the release that the new arm of PPMI’s existing study is crucial to progressing the research on Parkinson’s.
“In the third year of PPMI, it is evident that a large-scale biomarker study is not only possible in Parkinson’s disease, but is already yielding scientific insights that could help transform the field of Parkinson’s research,” Sherer said. “None of this progress would be possible without the willing volunteers who donate their time and energy to the pursuit of a cure.”