NIEHS Invests $21.25 Million to Find
Environmental Causes of Parkinson's Disease
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS),
part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), announced today
that it will award three new grants totaling $21.25 million over
a five-year period to study how environmental factors contribute
to the cause, prevention and treatment of Parkinson's disease and
other related disorders.
Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects
nerve cells, or neurons, in several parts of the brain, including
neurons that use the chemical messenger dopamine to control muscle
movement More than one million Americans suffer from Parkinson's
disease, with approximately 60,000 new cases reported each year.
The average age of onset is 60 years, though people have been diagnosed
as young as 18.
The five-year grants are being awarded as part of the NIEHS' Centers
for Neurodegeneration Science (CNS) announcement issued in 2007.
The CNS program builds on the previous successes of the NIEHS Collaborative
Centers for Parkinson's Disease Environmental Research. Each center
has assembled an interdisciplinary team of investigators that are
working on several tightly connected research projects related
to Parkinson's disease.
"Given the growing body of literature that is identifying
environmental stressors such as pesticides as risk factors for
Parkinson's disease, it is more important than ever that we bring
clinical and basic scientists together to clarify the causes of
this disease," said Cindy Lawler, Ph.D., program administrator
at NIEHS. "These new centers will bring us one step closer
to new prevention and treatment strategies."
The three grantees include:
- Gary Miller, Ph.D., Emory University, Atlanta
Parkinson's disease (PD) has been linked to pesticide exposure,
mitochondrial damage, and altered storage of the neurotransmitter
dopamine. Dr. Miller and his team will be looking at how environmental
and genetic factors interact to alter these functions in dopamine
neurons. Identifying these mechanisms could lead to new therapeutic
targets. In addition, the Emory team will be attempting to
develop new biomarkers in the blood that will help identify
people that may be at risk for developing Parkinson's disease.
- Marie-Françoise Chesselet, M.D., Ph.D., University
of California, Los Angeles
The researchers at UCLA have previously shown associations between
high levels of exposure to specific environmental pesticides
and Parkinson's' disease and will build on this knowledge to
determine the mechanisms of action that may be causing this association.
They will use an integrated, multidisciplinary approach to identify
additional agricultural pesticides that are disrupting similar
molecular pathways, and determine whether these also increase
the risk of Parkinson's. Their work is expected to shed light
on the pathological processes involved in sporadic Parkinson's
disease, the most frequent form of the disorder, and could have
public health implications for precautions in the use of some
- Stuart Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., Burnham Institute for Medical
Research, La Jolla, Calif.
Investigators at the Burnham Institute will explore how environmental
toxicants may contribute to Parkinson's disease by producing
free radical stress that mimics or enhances the effects of known
genetic mutations. The focus will be on those proteins known
to be related to Parkinson's disease, including parkin, DJ-1
and PINK1, with the goal of determining how chemical reactions
that donate extra electrons lead to damaging modifications of
these proteins. The clinical implications of these processes
will be explored through biomarker development efforts and a
screen to identify new lead compounds that can preserve protein
function by reducing free radical stress.
"The UCLA and Emory CNS grants will extend the exciting lines
of research previously supported by NIEHS through the Collaborative
Centers for Parkinson's Disease Environmental Research, while the
Burnham Institute grant will bring an important new perspective
to research on gene-environment interplay in Parkinson's disease," said
Dennis Lang, Ph.D., acting director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural
Research and Training.
"As a patient advocacy group, we are thrilled to see that
NIEHS is continuing its research investment in this disease," said
Amy Rick, chief executive officer of the Parkinson's Action Network
an advocacy group for Parkinson's research. "We hope that
with greater understanding of the role of environmental factors
in causing Parkinson's Disease, we will make great strides in finding
better prevention and treatment approaches."
NIEHS supports research to understand the effects of the environment
on human health and is part of NIH. For more information on environmental
health topics, please visit our website at http://www.niehs.nih.gov.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and
Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting
and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research,
and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both
common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and
its programs, visit www.nih.gov.