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Parkinson's Researchers Hold Annual Meeting

By Eddy Ball
November 2006

Marie-Fancoise Chesselet
UCLA Center Co-Director Marie-Francoise Chesselet smiles as she responds to a question from a colleague. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

alpha-synuclein overexpressors
Research by CCPDR investigators into over expression of α-synuclein may lead to interventions in Parkinson's. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Mike Humble
As investigators listened to their colleague, DERT program staff worked behind the scenes to make the meeting go as planned. Shown here is Program Analyst Mike Humble. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

On October 4, NIEHS hosted the annual meeting of the Collaborative Centers for Parkinson's Disease Environmental Research (CCPDER) Consortium at Rodbell A Conference Center. The consortium is composed of NIEHS-sponsored principal investigators affiliated with centers at Emory University in Atlanta, The Parkinson Institute (TPI) and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). The group has gathered each year since its founding in 2002 to discuss the highlights of ongoing research into the causes, risk factors, symptoms and treatment of Parkinson's Disease (PD).

Four years into a five-year grant, researchers were especially concerned with communicating their accomplishments. The goals of CCPDER (pronounced "sip-der") included three main objectives:

  • Identifying genetic and environmental factors that interact to contribute to development of PD;
  • Achieving an understanding of the mechanism of gene-environment interactions that trigger the disease processes that ultimately produce PD;
  • Developing a knowledge base to enable translation of research findings into rational prevention and intervention strategies for PD.

Each of the three centers presented a concise overview of the year's research, focusing on what meeting host Cindy Lawler, Ph.D., described as "breath-taking breakthroughs." Presenters described their successes in determining appropriate animal models for PD, producing PD symptom models using such environmental triggers as the pesticides Rotonone and Ziram, and studying extensively the metabolic mechanisms involved in the disease. They also discussed potentially useful interventions. According to TPI Center Director William Langston, M.D., CCPDER funding has given the centers an unprecedented opportunity to "integrate research across disciplines... [and] add strength to NIEHS programs" by drawing on the intellectual and financial resources of other groups interested in PD.

All of the principal investigators emphasized the value of the interdisciplinary research approach and the high level of collaboration the program has fostered. This spirit of cooperation inspired UCLA Center Co-Director Marie-Francoise Chesselet, M.D., Ph.D., to praise the "CCPDR synergy" that emerged. "Each of the centers has benefited from the interactions and intellectual collaboration," she said. Chesselet pointed out that PD groups throughout the country and around the world are communicating in ways they never were before.

NIEHS sponsorship helped the two California centers gain legislative approval for the California Parkinson's Disease Registry (CPDR). The CPDR will provide demographic data that may help uncover the rate of PD in the population and determine whether race, ethnicity, gender, age, environmental factors or place of residence influence the likelihood of getting the disease. In the course of developing the project, TPI and UCLA collaborated with the Parkinson's Action Network, American Parkinson's Disease Association, Young Onset Parkinson's Association, National Parkinson's Foundation, Team Parkinson and Parkinson's Resource Organization.

NIEHS support also helped Emory investigators to collaborate with DeCode Genetics of Reykjavik, Iceland. The research project used data from over 1,000 subjects to study genes that may play a role in PD. Because of its unusually homogeneous population, Iceland was an especially promising site for the research. "Iceland's national pastime is genealogy," said Emory's Allen Levey, M.D., Ph.D., "and the country has an accurate family tree that goes back over a thousand years." The collaboration helped researchers better understand the extent of familial clustering in late onset, idiopathic PD.

CCPDER operates under the administrative umbrella of the institute's Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT). The consortium was inspired by a 2001 NIEHS-sponsored workshop held in Colorado Springs prior to that year's International Neurotoxicology Society's Annual Conference. The research findings and knowledge gaps identified at those meetings led the institute, then directed by Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., to formulate a five-year, $20 million grant under the Cooperative Agreement U54 Specialized Cooperative Center program award mechanism. CCPDER grants were awarded in August 2002. Currently, the grant is administered by a DERT team made up of Program Administrator Annette Kirshner, Ph.D., Program Coordinator Cindy Lawler and Program Analyst Mike Humble, Ph.D.

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