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NIEHS launches major PD initiative. (NIEHS News).

Parkinson's disease (PD) is the world's second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer disease, affecting at least 500,000 people in the United States alone, with 50,000 new cases reported each year. A chronic and progressive brain disorder primarily affecting motor function, PD can also impair thinking and emotional function. It strikes mainly people over age 50 and is slightly more common in men. The incidence and prevalence of PD increase with age, and it is expected to affect even more people as life expectancies rise worldwide. PD appears to arise from the interaction of inherited genetic susceptibility with chronic environmental exposures, such as occupational exposure to metals.

Although there are no tests that can predict PD or methods to prevent it, PD is known to result from a loss of brain cells that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in movement control. A number of currently available drugs can provide relief from its debilitating symptoms, but many of them lose their effectiveness over time.

To provide a science-based foundation for future research on the prevention and treatment of PD, and to identify its environmental triggers, the NIEHS has launched a five-year, $20 million, three-center effort, the institute announced on 26 August 2002. Although these centers will conduct research independently, they will also function as a consortium to share data and resources, and to plan and conduct collaborative studies. Each center will support several multidisciplinary research projects that build on currently funded PD research.

The first center will be located at The Parkinson's Institute in Sunnyvale, California, and headed by J. William Langston, who is also the founder of The Parkinson's Institute. This center will focus on researching PD risks associated with exposure to pesticides and heavy metals, understanding the possible protective effects of tobacco and caffeine, and determining the underlying mechanisms of dopamine cell death and genetically determined susceptibility traits for PD.

The second center will be located at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and headed by J. Timothy Greenamyre, a neuropharmacologist and codirector of the Emory Neurodegenerative Disease Center. This center will concentrate on developing new cellular and animal models to study PD, and will also study how pesticides interact with proteins that package dopamine within nerves and the cellular machinery that degrades abnormal proteins.

The third center will be located at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and headed by Marie-Francoise Chesselet, a professor of neurology and associate director for education at the UCLA Brain Research Institute. The UCLA center will study how variations in the genes that regulate dopamine levels within neurons may be linked with increased risk of PD associated with pesticide exposures.

PD activists attending the meeting at The Parkinson's Institute to launch the centers praised the new initiative. Deborah Brooks, executive director of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, commented, "The NIEHS and Director [Kenneth] Olden have designed a creative approach to targeting this exciting area of Parkinson's research," while Joan Samuelson, founder of the Parkinson's Action Network, added that finding a cure for PD will be accelerated by "this tremendous commitment of funding and focused effort."
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Author:Dooley, Erin E.
Publication:Environmental Health Perspectives
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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