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New research program tackles Parkinson’s disease

Tuesday December 19, 2006

Jordana Lenon

December 14, 2006(University of Wisconsin System) - A new research collaboration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison aims to move promising new therapies for Parkinson’s disease from primates to patients.

Based at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and named the Preclinical Parkinson’s Disease Research Program, the collaboration became official in November. Joseph Kemnitz, professor of physiology and Primate Center director, is the program’s executive director. Renowned Parkinson’s disease expert Marina Emborg, senior scientist at the Primate Center and in the department of anatomy, is scientific director. "Our goal is to hasten discoveries that will lead to new therapies for Parkinson’s disease, with an emphasis on cell and gene-based therapies," says Kemnitz.

Through the new program, the Primate Center is poised to become the country’s centralized resource for Parkinson’s disease research using nonhuman primate models, especially macaques, Kemnitz says. Program collaborators and funding agencies that will help develop the necessary laboratory and animal resources at the Primate Center include WinCon, a biotechnology company in Nanning, Guangxi, China; researchers at the Beijing Institute of Geriatrics, and an anonymous foundation.

"Macaques are regarded by many as the most useful model for Parkinson’s research," Kemnitz says. "These collaborators chose the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center because we have a well established infrastructure for conducting research using nonhuman primates, and UW-Madison has a broad range of expertise directly relevant to this program."

That expertise lies in the UW-Madison’s renowned capabilities in brain imaging technology, stem cell biology and clinical biomanufacturing. Researchers from the Primate Center, Waisman Center, School of Medicine and Public Health, School of Pharmacy, and other campus entities are already developing promising Parkinson’s therapies based on embryonic stem cell derivations, trophic (nutritive) factors, compounds called thiazolidenediones, deep brain stimulation and other treatment avenues.

"We’re committed to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease," Emborg says.

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