Yale teams get multi-million-dollar awards to study biology of Parkinson’s

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Two Yale research teams will each receive approximately $9 million in grants from the Aligning Sciences Across Parkinson’s (ASAP) initiative to study the underlying biology of Parkinson’s disease.

The ASAP grants, to be distributed over three years, are part of a major international, multi-institutional effort to uncover the basic disease mechanisms that drive the progressive neurological disorder, which afflicts 7 to 10 million people worldwide. The initiative builds and leverages a network of leading investigators, which will ultimately serve to promote rapid access to data, enabling breakthroughs across scales that will accelerate benefits for patients. 

A Yale team headed by Pietro De Camilli, the John Klingenstein Professor of Neuroscience, professor of cell biology, and investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, will study how gene mutations linked to Parkinson’s affect the function of brain cells during the course of the disease. De Camilli will team with scientists from Weill Cornell Medicine to study the impact of Parkinson’s disease on the physiology and metabolism of synapses, with the goal of identifying new therapeutic targets.

A second Yale team led by David Hafler, the William S. and Lois Stiles Edgerly Professor of Neurology and professor of immunobiology, will investigate whether the progression of Parkinson’s disease pathology in the brain is initiated by an autoimmune process triggered by the gut microbiome. The research, part of the Center for Neuroinflammation at Yale, will leverage long-standing collaborations with researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute to produce an unprecedented map of the neuro-immune-gut interactions, with the goal of identifying new treatments for the disease.

The awards to two Yale teams illustrate the university’s dedication to collaborative science and the growing role Yale neuroscientists are playing in elucidating fundamental mechanisms of the most intractable conditions afflicting the brain and central nervous system, said Nancy J. Brown, dean of the Yale School of Medicine. “Without a more robust understanding of basic mechanisms we cannot make progress in the treatment of Parkinsonism,” she added.

Other Yale members of the De Camilli team are Karin Reinisch, the David W. Wallace Professor of Cell Biology and of molecular biophysics and biochemistry; Shawn Ferguson, associate professor of cell biology and neuroscience; and Kallol Gupta, assistant professor of cell biology.

Other Yale members of the Hafler team are Le Zhang, assistant professor of neurology; Sreeganga Chandra, associate professor of neurology and neuroscience; Rui Chang, assistant professor of neuroscience; Noah Palm, assistant professor of immunobiology; Brian Koo and Jesse Cedarbaum, members of the clinical Department of Neurology; and David van Dijk, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine and Genetics.

ASAP is a coordinated research initiative dedicated to fostering collaboration and resources to better understand the underlying causes of Parkinson’s disease. The Michael J. Fox Foundation is ASAP’s implementation partner and issued the grants.

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