The Perry & Ruby Stevens Charitable Foundation has awarded $1.5 million over three years to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute to advance existing neurological research in the study of the causes of, and therapeutic approaches to, Parkinson’s disease.
“If Ruby Stevens were alive today, she would write out a check for this cause. That is what Ruby and Perry would have liked and we are pleased to carry this out on their behalf,” said Phillip Milton, one of the foundation’s four trustees.
“This grant elevates our already substantial research on diseases related to the brain by optimizing resources we’ve developed over decades of research on the genetics of common diseases. At the same time the project will utilize the very latest technology,” said Sarah Williams-Blangero, Ph.D., Texas Biomed’s Genetics Department chair.
Directed by John Blangero, Ph.D., the research will incorporate members of the San Antonio Family Study population, which is well characterized and has whole genome sequence data available for participants.
Parkinson’s disease (PD), which afflicts as many as 1 million Americans, is a movement disorder associated with the degeneration of cells in a brain area called the substantia nigra. Unfortunately, the mechanism underlying this neurodegeneration remains poorly understood. Basically, neurons lose their ability to respond to dopamine, a critical neurotransmitter. At least 30 percent to 40 percent of the variability in risk of PD is due to genetic factors.
“It is imperative to identify causal genes involved in the common form of PD in order to identify novel, high quality drug targets,” said John Blangero. “This newly funded project is very exciting because we’ll be making brain cells from blood cells using induced pluripotent stem cell technology. We’ll then perform deep cellular phenotyping on the neurons and search for genes that may be good drug targets.”
Classical genetic approaches based on studies of related affected individuals generally are not feasible due to the late onset of the disease. In other late onset diseases, such as heart disease, it has been possible to identify correlated biomarkers (such as cholesterol measures) which can be measured in all individuals (including both unaffected and affected individuals) that strongly correlate with risk and that can act as powerful surrogates for identifying disease-related genes. Unfortunately, there are no unequivocal, easy-to-measure surrogates for PD risk. This research project will explore, and hopefully identify, useful biomarkers that can help identify those at early stage and possibly those at high risk of PD.
The Perry & Ruby Stevens Charitable Foundation, located in Kerrville, Texas, was established by Ruby Stevens in January 2006 in accordance with the wishes of her late husband, Perry Stevens. The purpose of establishing the Foundation was to provide assistance to qualified non-profit organizations that direct their activities toward a number of specific charitable purposes including the prevention, research and treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
Texas Biomed, formerly the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, is one of the world’s leading independent biomedical research institutions dedicated to advancing global human health through innovative biomedical research. Located on a 200-acre campus on the northwest side of San Antonio, Texas, the Institute partners with hundreds of researchers and institutions around the world, targeting advances in the fight against AIDS, hepatitis, malaria, parasitic infections and a host of other infectious diseases, as well as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, psychiatric disorders, and problems of pregnancy. For more information on Texas Biomed, go to www.TxBiomed.org, or call Joe Carey, Texas Biomed’s Vice President for Public Affairs, at 210-258-9437.