A Tale of Two Research Strategies

From James Beck, Ph.D., Director of Research Programs

I hope you saw the news item PDF posted last week in which we announced $1.2 million in funding from two of PDF’s investigator-initiated grants programs for 13 Parkinson’s research projects.

I want to share with you the approaches behind these two programs – both because they are philosophies of which I am particularly proud and more importantly, because we at PDF think these philosophies may also yield “the next great idea” for PD.

First among these approaches is PDF’s goal to fund grassroots research, which we do through our International Research Grants Program, or IRGP. Here, PDF puts out a call for proposals that are rooted in the creativity of individual scientists — folks who are experts in their field with first-hand knowledge of the science of PD. The creativity of these scientists is brought to bear to tackle a set of problems on the path to a cure. Each scientist formulates his/her ideas into testable hypotheses and the merits of those ideas are then judged by an independent panel of PD researchers convened by PDF. PDF then extends support – up to the limit of available resources made possible by our donors - to the best ideas in our effort to affect a cure and help those living with the disease.

This approach to finding and funding the best science is certainly not new, though in the business world it is akin to the very popular method of “crowdsourcing” ideas…where new ideas are not generated by an organization, but by a community. In the world of PD, this approach of supporting ideas from individuals has led to the biggest advances in managing PD – levodopa and DBS.

Thus, PDF aims – by leveraging its initial research investment into supporting great ideas generated by the “crowd” of scientists – to help bring about the next big thing in PD.

Another related approach to research employed by PDF is to invest in talented young researchers. As the first not-for-profit organization created to focus on PD, PDF has an established commitment to fighting PD. Because the battle has yet to be won, we absolutely must invest in the future to ensure PD’s defeat. So, through our Fellowship Program, we are working to make certain that the best and brightest young talent joins and continues the fight. In this program, PDF funds young investigators to support them at a critical juncture in their scientific training – whether it be basic science or clinical research.

Since PDF’s grants are awarded exclusively on scientific merit, it is amazing to see how many young investigators were able to generate ideas that successfully competed in this year’s grant competition. Less than half (66) of the 150 total scientists who applied were young scientists fresh from their doctorates…yet, of the eight grants awarded this year, six went to support the Fellows in this category. This is quite an achievement. It provides great promise for the future of Parkinson’s research.

For more information on projects we’re funding, browse this year’s abstracts. We look forward to reporting on the results of this research and the impact we hope it makes upon science and our understanding and treatment of PD. Stay tuned.

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