The Parkinsonís Foundation Translational Research Grant Awards


The Parkinson’s Foundation Translational Research Grant Awards

The Parkinsons Foundation is working toward a world without Parkinsons disease. Formed by the merger of National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) and the Parkinsons Disease Foundation (PDF) in August 2016, the mission of the Parkinsons Foundation is to invest in promising scientific research that will end Parkinsons disease and improve the lives of people with Parkinsons, and their families, through improved treatments, support and the best care.


The Translational Research Grant program aims to advance our understanding of Parkinsons. It is an extension of the PDF Community Choice Research Awards (CCRA), which began in 2013, with a simple question posed to people with Parkinsons and care partners What are your unmet needs? As a result, CCRA became the first grant awards in the Parkinsons community to set research priorities based upon the insights of those living with the disease. To date, based upon two surveys of the Parkinsons community, CCRA has identified four areas of unmet needs cognitive change, dystonia, fatigue and gastrointestinal dysfunction. Listed below are the five programs being funded:


Impact of a novel exercise intervention on executive function and sleep in patients with PD- Amy Amara, M.D., Ph.D.; University of Alabama at Birmingham

Persons with Parkinsons disease (PD) often experience non-motor symptoms such as cognitive dysfunction and sleep problems. These symptoms can be more disabling than the motor symptoms of PD. Medications are often not effective for treating these non-motor symptoms or can have unwanted side effects. Non-medication treatments such as exercise are known to improve the motor symptoms of PD, but the effect of exercise on cognition and sleep has not been fully explored. This study investigates the impact of 16 weeks of supervised exercise, 3 times per week, compared to no-exercise over the same duration, on cognition and sleep dysfunction. Participants will be evaluated with cognitive tests and sleep studies before and after 16-weeks to determine the impact of this exercise intervention. The goal of this research is to identify an intervention that will improve cognition and sleep in persons with PD.


Remotely-supervised transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) for at-home treatment of fatigue and cognitive slowing in Parkinson’s disease

Milton Biagioni, M.D.; New York University

Fatigue and slowed thinking are very prevalent symptoms in people with Parkinsons disease (PD). To date there are no concrete effective treatment available for either symptom. We propose to test transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to ameliorate fatigue and slowed thinking in PD. tDCS is a noninvasive brain stimulation technique that is low-cost, relatively safe, and reproducible when conducted in repeat clinic visits. We have validated a remotely-supervised tDCS (RS-tDCS) protocol using an innovative tele-rehabilitation design, allowing study participation from home. Our protocol is paired with computerized cognitive training for participants under real-time live connection supervision. This remotely-supervised protocol will ease recruitment challenges and facilitate participation in people with PD were repeated visits to the clinic represents a big hurdle. The results will directly inform its real-world applicability and will guide future brain stimulation research designs to validate this therapy for fatigue and slowed thinking.


Goal-directed behavior in Parkinson's disease

Nabila Dahodwala, Ph.D.; University of Pennsylvania

Impairments in goal-directed behavior in older adults with Parkinsons disease lead to the serious neuropsychiatric syndrome of apathy. Apathy is associated with increased disability, death and higher caregiver burden and strain. This research aims to test a novel, quantitative measure of goal-directed behavior in order to better understand the underlying mechanisms of apathy, which will ultimately allow for the development of targeted interventions to treat apathy and improve the health of people with Parkinsons disease.


Multi-modal Neuroimaging of Fatigue in Parkinson’s Disease

Hengyi Rao, Ph.D.; University of Pennsylvania

Fatigue is a common non-motor symptom of PD and a major contributor to disability and distress. However, little is known about the neurobiology of fatigue in PD, which is a significant barrier to implementing prevention and management strategies. In this proposal we plan to use our well-established multi-modal neuroimaging methods to elucidate brain function changes underlying fatigue in PD and explore the efficacy of blue light as a potential intervention for reducing fatigue and reversing fatigue-related-brain dysfunction. Findings from this project can be used to better understand, further study, and manage fatigue symptoms in PD.


Double-blind, randomised, cross-over, pilot study of cannabidiol in patients with Parkinson’s disease and rapid eye movement behaviour disorder

 Renata Riha, M.D.; University of Edinburgh

Our research is targeted at improving quality of life in people with Parkinsons disease (PD) and rapid eye movement behaviour disorder (RBD) by evaluating if cannabidiol (CBD) decreases symptoms and increases quality of sleep. Sufferers with RBD experience violent movements during sleep (e.g., punching, kicking), resulting in injury to themselves or bed partners. This can negatively impact mental health, relationships, and quality of life. More than 80% of people with RBD will eventually develop PD or other neurological disorders. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a medication that has been used to treat both PD and RBD in small numbers of patients and in animal models. In our study, participants will be randomly assigned to the Treatment group (CBD) (n=10) or the Control group (placebo) (n=10), in addition to nocturnal safety information, for three months. After three months, participants in the Treatment group stop the medication and take placebo while participants in the Control group take CBD for three months. Placebo is a capsule that does not contain any active drug ingredient. We will use the placebo to compare if the active medication, CBD, has a real effect on PD-RBD. At baseline and the end of three and six months, participants will have an in-home sleep study to assess changes in abnormal limb movements during sleep, bloods drawn, urine test and fill out questionnaires (partner too, if available) for changes in sleep, mood, symptom improvement, and burden of care (for partners). This study aims to establish if CBD plays a role in the treatment of PD-RBD by improving sleep and quality of life for individuals and their families. The results of this trial will directly inform clinical practice and allow for further trials to be undertaken as well as improve evidence-based health care for people with PDRBD at both national and international levels.