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News Release

Parkinson's researcher receives funding to investigate liver drug

8/17/2009
Photo of Dr. Curt Freed, Parkinson's researcher

Award is part of Michael J. Fox Foundation program for high-risk/high-reward approaches to Parkinson’s

Dr. Curt Freed is testing a new clinical strategy for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease thanks to a grant from The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) through their 2009 Rapid Response Innovation Awards. The funding will enable Freed and Wenbo Zhou, PhD, to further investigate their discovery that a drug called phenylbutyrate can prevent brain deterioration in animal models of Parkinson’s disease by turning on a protective gene called DJ-1. Phenylbutyrate is already approved by the FDA to treat an unrelated condition, a rare form of liver disease.

Freed and his colleagues will study phenylbutyrate in 12 people to see if the drug can increase DJ-1 levels in the blood of patients with Parkinson’s. Results from this early phase research could lead to a larger study to test if phenylbutyrate can slow or stop the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

According to the MJFF’s website, Rapid Response Awards earmark up to $2 million annually to support research with potential to crack open new ways of understanding or treating Parkinson’s disease. The program has no deadline, instead accepting researchers’ proposals on a rolling basis throughout the year in order to fund “truly novel thinking whenever inspiration strikes.”

“Rapid Response enables us to assess the best new ideas in real time, quickly vet their potential, and move the most promising ones to the next level fast,” said Katie Hood, CEO of MJFF. “This reflects our commitment to keep fresh ideas flowing into the Parkinson’s therapeutic pipeline, as well as our recognition that when great research ideas have to wait for a program deadline, so do Parkinson’s patients—a status quo we are determined to improve on.”

MJFF has funded 20 Rapid Response Innovation Awards totaling more than $1 million so far in 2009, and a total of over $6 million in awards since the program was first launched. Some Rapid Response projects from prior years have gone on to garner major additional funding to support the next stage of research, including clinical trials. MJFF has funded $149 million in research to date.

The University of Colorado Denver’s School of Medicine faculty work to advance science and improve care. These faculty members include physicians, educators and scientists at University of Colorado Hospital, The Children’s Hospital, Denver Health, National Jewish Health, and the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Degrees offered by the UC Denver School of Medicine include doctor of medicine, doctor of physical therapy, and masters of physician assistant studies.  The School is part of the University of Colorado Denver, one of three campuses in the University of Colorado system. For additional news and information, please visit the UC Denver newsroom online.

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Contact: Tonya Ewers-Maikish, 303.315.6374, tonya.ewers@ucdenver.edu