Tracking the Impact: 2023 APDA-funded Parkinson’s Research

APDA’s Impactful Research in Parkinson’s Disease

African american women scientists using microscope writing on document at laboratory

APDA proudly invests in the most promising clinicians and scientific projects focused on the discovery of the cause(s) and finding the cure(s) for Parkinson’s disease (PD). APDA is committed to scientific research and has been a funding partner in many major PD scientific breakthroughs, investing nearly $60 million in research since 1961. We are very proud of the impact our research funds have made in the past, and we’re excited to give you some updates on the impact we’re having today, and also explain how we measure that impact.

Many APDA-funded researchers have utilized the funding they received to develop the pilot data they need to then successfully secure multimillion-dollar grants through the National Institutes of Health and other funding partners. You can hear firsthand from one of our researchers who explains how APDA’s seed funding made all the difference in securing a grant from the NIH, not once, but twice; and also learn more about our overall research program in our research video. You can also read about some of our past researchers and how APDA grants have been vital in their ongoing work: 

How APDA Research Funding Works

Every year, our esteemed Scientific Advisory Board meets in the spring to carefully select the scientists who will receive APDA research funding. It’s a very specific and thorough process. You can read about how a scientist develops a project to apply for funding. 

APDA’s Newly Funded 2024 Research Awardees 

Our current group of grantees is working on exciting projects which you can read about on our website. Our grantees are required to send us six-month and 12-month progress reports to keep us up to date on how their projects are progressing. This is an important part of the process and helps us evaluate and measure our impact.

Tracking the Impact of APDA-Funded Research 

There are various methods APDA uses to understand the impact of our grant money: 

  • The number of papers published in medical literature that acknowledge APDA funding. 
  • The quality of the journals in which the APDA-funded papers are published.  Not all medical journals are considered on par with each other. Some are more selective in the research papers that they accept than others.  The research community has created a metric called the Impact Factor, to measure how impactful a journal’s research is. The higher the number, the more impactful the journal.  A journal’s Impact Factor is the average number of times articles published in the journal in the past two years have been cited in other journals. It is calculated by dividing the total number of citations in a two-year period by the total number of articles published in those two years. In general, an Impact Factor of 10 or higher is considered remarkable, while above 3 is considered very good. 
  • The number of times the individual APDA-funded papers were cited in other papers.  APDA can track how often the research paper is cited in subsequent research, a measure of how important the work has been to other research projects. As time goes on, the number of citations typically increases. For example, while APDA-funded work from 2022 was cited 188 times, APDA-funded work from 2021 was cited 1,239 times, and work from 2020 was cited 2,511 times.  Since 2020, APDA-funded work has collectively been cited more than 4,000 times!

Academic Journals and ADPA-Funded Research

In 2023, 28 APDA-funded research articles were published in academic journals, investigating various aspects of PD, including understanding how dopamine neurons are generated, the use of augmented reality as a treatment for freezing of gait, and the development of a novel PD-specific drug screening tool. These studies were published in various journals with Impact Factors ranging from 1.48-66.85 with an average of 10.2. Even though these papers have only been published within the past year, they have already been cited in 72 other research articles.  

It is important to note that research may take more than one year to reach its conclusion. Therefore, some papers published in 2023 were funded by APDA one or more years ago.

Here is a summary of the citation record for the APDA papers from the past four years: 

YearNumber of papersImpact factor rangeImpact factor averageNumber of citations

APDA-Funded Research Papers 

To give you some examples, below we highlight several research papers published in 2023 that APDA has proudly funded. You can click through to the actual published paper for more detail about the research projects.

How two different types of dopamine neurons are generated.

In April 2023, Dr. Umemori published a paper in the very prestigious journal Cell which highlights findings from his APDA-funded work. There are two distinct dopamine neuron populations in the midbrain, those in the substantia nigra that regulate motor behaviors and those in the ventral tegmental area that regulate motivation. The dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra degenerate in Parkinson’s disease while the dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area do not show nearly as much damage. Dr. Umemori’s project sought to understand how these two dopamine populations developed and why only one was targeted in PD. In this work, Dr. Umemori discovered that two different nerve growth factors were responsible for the development of the two types of dopamine neurons. He also identified two molecules that acted downstream of these two different nerve growth factors, Smad1 and Smad2. Mice missing Smad1 showed motor deficits, and mice missing Smad2 showed a lack of motivation. The next steps could involve manipulating one of these specific pathways to treat diseases such as PD which demonstrate abnormal dopamine signaling.

Developing an innovative PD-specific drug screening tool.

In June 2023, Dr. Gabsang Lee published a paper that described a novel drug screening system called OASIS (Opto-genetic Assisted Alpha-Synuclein Aggregation Induction System) in which alpha-synuclein production and aggregation within the dopaminergic neurons is regulated by shining blue light on the cells. The system was used to screen potential drugs that can interfere with the aggregation of alpha-synuclein, thought to be the primary driver of the pathology of PD. Of the long list of potential compounds, BAG956 was identified as having the most potential at reducing aggregation. They then further tested the molecule in various cell and animal systems. BAG956 not only reduced alpha-synuclein aggregation, but also reduced nerve cell death in dopaminergic cells. In a mouse model of PD, the introduction of BAG956 improved many tests of motor and behavior function. Dr. Lee’s work was highlighted on our website shortly after it was published.

Can augmented reality be used as a treatment for freezing of gait?

In June 2023, Dr. James Liao published an article that analyzed the available data on the use of augmented reality (a technology in which a computer-generated image is superimposed on top of a user’s actual view of the world) for the treatment of freezing of gait (FOG). The article also highlighted his own work, supported by APDA, which includes a clinical trial studying the use of augmented reality for FOG. Dr. Liao’s work was also featured on a recent APDA Dr. Gilbert Hosts broadcast.

The presence of Lewy body pathology in the thinking parts of the brain is not enough to cause dementia in Parkinson’s disease

APDA funds eight Centers for Advanced Research at major medical centers around the country. These APDA Centers support large research programs which include research trainees, fellowship programs, early-stage discovery programs, and later-stage clinical translation. A recent study published in January 2023 from the APDA Center for Advanced Research at Washington University investigated the relationship between neuropathology and dementia and showed, predictably, that the vast majority (94%) of individuals with PD and dementia had Lewy bodies, or abnormal accumulations of the protein alpha-synuclein in the neocortex, the part of the brain involved in higher-level thinking. However, 68% of the individuals with PD but without dementia also had neocortical Lewy bodies! This surprising discovery indicates that other factors besides neocortical Lewy bodies contribute to the development of dementia.

The effects of deep brain stimulation on walking in PD

The Dr. George C. Cotzias Memorial Fellowship is APDA’s most prestigious award, given over a three-year period to a physician-scientist with the goal of fostering a career in research, teaching, and patient care of PD and related disorders. A recent Cotzias awardee, Dr. Aasef Shaikh published a paper in July 2023 that analyzed improvements in the gait patterns of those receiving deep brain stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus.

We continue to be very mindful of the impact of our funding and make every effort to maximize the effect of our research dollars to advance our understanding of PD.   

Tips and Takeaways 

  • APDA proudly invests in research that advances our understanding of PD.  
  • In addition to the research reports submitted by our grantees, we track the impact of our investment by monitoring the publication of the results of the studies that we fund, the quality of the journals in which the results are published, and the number of times the results have been cited in other research. 
  • APDA can continue to fund important PD research because of the generous donations we receive from dedicated people like you. If you would like to support critical work like this, please consider making a donation of any size today. Thank you.
  • To learn more about APDA’s research funding, please visit the What We Fund section of our website. 

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