Accelerating PD Research by Going Back to Basics

It didn’t pass unnoticed within the scientific community last month that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) a fairly new philanthropic organization, announced their plan to give early career scientists up to $2.5 million for five years to fund their neurodegeneration research. Nothing really new you may think… Although other associations already exist that have supported PD research for many years to help find a cure, this initiative might bring fresh air and catalyze creativity within the field. Indeed, the CZI is eager to create a network of interdisciplinary scientists and promote basic research giving priority to scientists “who are new to the field of neurodegeneration” and may come from other disciplines such as immunology, metabolism, computational biology etc. This may seem odd and unusual for many of us but this could be the beginning of a new era in PD research.

Tremendous progress has been made by neuroscientists and neurologists in recent years in understanding PD pathophysiology, and new therapeutic targets that alleviate motor symptoms are being explored. However, we do not yet have a cure to offer to patients and crucial pieces of the puzzle are missing to be able to move forward. Basic cellular mechanisms taking place in the brain are not clearly understood to this day and this has detrimental effects on our quest to stop disease progression. Tackling these scientific questions might become a priority. New ideas and new approaches need to come into place to find answers.

So, why not leave the brain for a moment? Some neuroscientists have already crossed that border and new concepts have already emerged revolutionizing the theory of PD development. Non-neuronal components of the disease such as the gut microbiome and the immune system became the new actors cast in PD research.

This initiative to fund projects outside the traditional approaches taken in neurodegeneration research may open new roads guiding us in novel directions, with fresh ideas, increasing our chances of making new discoveries. Basic science knowledge can certainly improve clinical diagnoses and boost research into potential therapies. It provides the foundation of cellular mechanisms that are involved in health, but dysregulated in disease. It is obviously appealing to finance research using leading edge technologies that aim to alleviate the motor and non-motor symptoms of PD and improve quality of life of people with Parkinson's. However, this will not stop the actual disease progression. If we fail to consider questions that may seem outside the scope of the PD field and reject approaches that may be considered old fashioned this could limit our opportunities to uncover previously unknown cellular processes and mechanisms.

This can be our chance to look at PD from another point of view. The more diversity in research, the more likely we are to come across new concepts and new targets that will surely contribute to future therapeutic strategies. This funding opportunity gets a ‘Like’ from me!


Marion Delenclos, PhD presented at the 4th World Parkinson Congress in Portland, Oregon. She is currently a Research Associate at the Mayo Clinic's Florida Campus. You can watch her present during the Hot Topics sessions at WPC 2016 by registering here.

Ideas and opinions expressed in this post reflect that of the author(s) solely. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of the World Parkinson Coalition®