UT gets federal stimulus grant for Parkinson's disease research

June 25, 2009

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston has received a $412,500 federal stimulus grant for Parkinson's disease research, the university announced today. It is the university's first federal stimulus grant.

Parkinson's disease is an incurable brain disorder. Its symptoms include trembling, stiffness and problems with balance. An estimated one million Americans are diagnosed with the neurological disorder.

The two-year grant will support efforts by researchers in the university's Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases (IMM) to develop a therapeutic vaccine.

Rowen Chang, Ph.D, an IMM professor of protein chemistry, is the principal investigator on the grant that comes from The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Chuantao Jiang, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant research professor at the IMM, is co-principal investigator.

Chang plans to add one or two researchers to the team of scientists in his lab with the funds. The grant extends through April 30, 2011.

"We are excited about receiving this grant, which will support our research and help the economy by employing more scientists," Chang said.

Chang believes he may be able to slow the progression of Parkinson's disease and possibly even prevent it by targeting a protein associated with the disease called alpha-synuclein.

If successful, Chang's vaccine would work by strengthening the immune system's ability to suppress the activity of alpha-synuclein through the production of antibodies. The effectiveness of this vaccine will be tested in transgenic mice expressing human alpha-synuclein.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed by Congress to jumpstart the economy and create jobs.

"The focus of the research has been on creating 'locked structures' of proteins by internal cross linking," said C. Thomas Caskey, M.D., IMM Director/CEO. "The application of this technology to creation of therapeutic antibodies for Parkinson's disease is a creative approach to new therapies for a challenging disease."
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Chang has been on the faculty of the Institute of Molecular Medicine for about a decade and was one of the initial appointments. He obtained his master's of science degree from the National Taiwan University in Taipei and his doctorate from the Australian National University at Canberra.

University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

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