September 30, 2010

VUMC, Emory team to combat Parkinson’s disease

VUMC, Emory team to combat Parkinson’s disease

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are joining forces with their colleagues at Emory University in Atlanta to develop new, more effective treatments for Parkinson's disease.

Jeffrey Conn, Ph.D., and his colleagues in the Vanderbilt Program in Drug Discovery, will study the potential of highly selective cholinergic receptor agents they have developed to relieve manifestations of the disease.

Theirs is one of four main projects to be pursued through a new Morris K. Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson's Disease Research at Emory University.

The center is supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health.

The center will receive more than $1 million each year for the next five years, Emory officials said.

Vanderbilt's share will be about $300,000 annually, said Conn, the Lee E. Limbird Professor of Pharmacology and director of the Vanderbilt Program in Drug Discovery.

NINDS Director Story Landis, Ph.D., announced the establishment of the Emory center and another new Udall center at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y., on Wednesday during the World Parkinson Congress in Glasgow, Scotland.

Named for the 30-year Arizona congressman who died of Parkinson's disease in 1998, there are 11 Udall centers nationwide.

“For more than a decade, the Udall Centers of Excellence have represented our commitment to bring together the talent and effort of the foremost investigators advancing research in Parkinson's disease,” Landis said in a news release.

“I look forward to these new centers partnering with us to accelerate basic, translational and clinical research to find a cure for this devastating illness.”

The cholinergic system, which includes the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and its receptors, plays a critical role in the central and peripheral nervous system functions, including motor control.

In particular, a muscarinic acetylcholine receptor called M1 has been implicated in the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease.

Selective antagonists of this receptor could lead to a new, more effective way to treat Parkinson's and other movement disorders.

Conn said the basic science underlying his group's most advanced drug discovery efforts for Parkinson's disease emerged from research he conducted as a part of another Udall center in the 1990s.

“This new award allows us to (pursue) other exciting new approaches that may eventually yield advances in the care for Parkinson's patients,” said Conn, whose research also is supported by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.