Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston have received a $325,000 award from The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research to develop a vaccine for this progressive neurological disorder that affects about a million Americans.
Rowen J. Y. Chang, Ph.D., and Chuantao Jiang, M.D., Ph.D., both with the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases (IMM), a part of the UT Health Science Center at Houston, received one of seven drug development awards funded through a special one-time academic funding track of the foundation's Therapeutics Development Initiative. The program seeks to leverage academic scientists' increasingly sophisticated approaches to drug development for Parkinson's disease.
"The use of immunological therapy involving monoclonal antibodies has revolutionized the treatment of many important diseases," said C. Thomas Caskey, M.D., director/CEO of the IMM. "The bold new approach to Parkinson's disease by Drs. Chang and Jiang has the potential for a similar impact."
The National Institutes of Health reports that Parkinson's disease results from the degeneration of neurons in a region of the brain that controls movement. The cause isn't known and there is no cure. The first symptom is typically trembling or shaking of a limb, especially when the body is at rest. Fifty thousand to 60,000 new cases are reported in the United States every year.
Chang and Jiang are developing a vaccine that targets alpha-synuclein, a protein associated with Parkinson's disease.
The researchers plan to test the vaccine on rodents to determine if it has the potential to prevent the development of Parkinson's disease. "If we can target alpha-synuclein, we believe there is potential to slow the onset of the development of the symptoms — something no currently available treatment has been proven to do," Jiang said.
"Successful completion of these studies could have a quick impact on Parkinson's disease intervention by providing a panel of effective immunogens ready to enter clinical testing for Parkinson's disease treatment," Chang said.
Chang is professor and director of the Center for Protein Chemistry at the IMM. He obtained his master's of science degree from the National Taiwan University at Taipei in 1974 and his Ph.D. from the Australian National University at Canberra in 1977. He did his postdoctoral training from 1978 to 1980 at Max-Planck Institute at Berlin (protein chemistry) and Mayo Clinic at Rochester, Minn. (immunochemistry). Between 1980 and 1998, Chang served at Ciba-Geigy in Basel, Switzerland, where he was responsible for the protein chemistry laboratory.
Jiang is a research assistant professor in the IMM Center for Protein Chemistry. He trained as a neurosurgeon after graduation from Harbin Medical University in China. He started his research career in the Department of Neurobiology in Harbin Medical University as a master's of science student. For his Ph.D. studies, Jiang investigated the application of stem cells on Parkinson's disease gene therapy. Jiang received his Ph.D. from the Beijing Institute of Neuroscience in 2002.
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