Michael J Fox Foundation pumps $221,000 into Kiwi Parkinson's research

New Zealand researchers are welcoming a grant of nearly quarter-of-a-million dollars from the Michael J Fox Foundation, which they hope will help them find a way to delay the onset of Parkinson's disease. 

The research team at  Auckland University's Centre for Brain Research has been given $221,000 to ramp up their hunt for new drugs to potentially slow down Parkinson's. 

Co-leader Dr Victor Dieriks says they have one main aim.

"We want to basically prevent the disease from starting. And if the disease starts, we want to prevent it from spreading to other parts of the brain."

The Michael J Fox Foundation, founded by the Hollywood star, is the world's largest non-profit funder of Parkinson's research. Worldwide, an estimated 6 million people live with the neuro-degenerative condition, including 10,000 New Zealanders.

"Current treatments only alleviate symptoms but do not target the actual cause," said Dr Dieriks.

"What we are seeking is treatments that would delay or even prevent degeneration by targeting the earliest disease processes. One of these early processes is inflammation of brain cells, called 'neuroinflammation', and that’s what we are focusing on."

By the time symptoms are visible, scientists say the damage to the brain is too extensive to repair.

Scientists at the Centre for Brain Research say they've got access to both brain cells and tissue from the same patients, unlike most institutes.

"In Auckland, we have this unique resource, and it's something the reviewers from the Michael J Fox Foundation emphasised - we're probably the only scientists in the world that have this resource."

The team have funding for 18 months. Results are expected by early 2022.

Fox, star of 1980s hits Back to the Future and Teen Wolf, was diagnosed with the disease in 1991. He went public with it in 1998, the same year he set up the Michael J Fox Foundation, which is now the largest non-profit funding research into Parkinson's in the world. 



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