GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s believed that more than 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease. Right now, there is no known cure or effective treatments to slow or stop the disease progression. A pair of doctors at Van Andel Institute hope the grants they received from Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s will help them learn more about the start and spread of the disease and lead to an effective treatment.

VAI Dr. Michaeld Henderson, along with his colleagues at Yale and Princeton, was given $9 million to help identify parts of the brain that are at risk for Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Hong-yuan Chu with the VAI and his colleagues at Emory University, SUNY Downstate and INSCOPIX, was given $6.3 million to investigate brain changes that could fuel Parkinson’s.

“This award has allowed us to assemble a fantastic group of scientists to tackle some of the most difficult questions in Parkinson’s disease research,” said Michael Henderson, Ph.D., a VAI assistant professor and co-investigator on the project. “We are grateful to ASAP for investing in research that we hope will transform how we understand and treat Parkinson’s disease.”

Dr. Hong-yuan Chu’s team will look critically at the role the cerebral cortex plays in the development of Parkinson’s. More specifically, looking at the motor disturbances caused by the disease and why the brain cells that produce the movement coordinating chemical, dopamine, die when Parkinson’s progresses.

“Parkinson’s is a complex disorder that has long evaded attempts to fully reveal its underpinnings and, as such, has stymied attempts to slow or stop disease progression,” Dr. Hong-yuan Chu said. “I am hopeful our mechanistic studies will reveal new insights into the brain circuits impacted by the disease at the cellular and synaptic levels, and provide a path forward for new therapeutic development.”

The three-year project will work with animal models of Parkinson’s and with technology like optical imaging and electrical brain recordings to look at large sample groups of specific “types of cortical neurons and explore how their activity and connections change when parkinsonism develops.”

The study’s lead doctor, Thomas Wichmann a Neurology professor at Emory says, “Establishing the time course of anatomical changes, relative to disease progression, is important for determining the appropriate timing for applying these treatment strategies and, therefore, achieving the best results.”

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research issued the grants. They are ASAP’s implementation partner as the two groups work to find a cure for Parkinson’s Disease as quickly as possible through collaboration, research-enabling resources, and data sharing.