Notes from this year’s Scientific Advisory Board meeting
The spring brings with it hope, renewal, and promise, the perfect backdrop for American Parkinson Disease Association’s (APDA) yearly Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) meeting at which the most exciting and promising research ideas for APDA grant funding is reviewed and recommended to the APDA Board of Directors. This year, the meeting took place on May 17, 2018.
APDA Grant Updates
About 70 grant requests were received by APDA. The grants fell into three major categories:
• Post-doctoral grants – one year of funding given to scientists who recently completed an MD or PhD degree
• Research grants – one year (with the possibility of a second year) of funding given to scientists who are relatively new to the field of Parkinson’s research
• George C. Cotzias Fellowship – three years of funding given to a highly promising physician-scientist to firmly establish his or her career in Parkinson’s research
One of the major goals of APDA’s grant process is to provide seed money to get new projects up and running, allowing researchers to obtain preliminary data which can then be used to secure larger grants, potentially from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other funding institutions. Take a look at APDA’s research video which outlines our research strategy and impact. Prior APDA grant recipients include Dr. Cotzias himself, who is renowned for developing L-Dopa as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
The Grant Review Process
APDA’s SAB is comprised of scientists with a broad array of backgrounds and expertise in all areas relevant to Parkinson’s disease. The review process of the SAB is similar to the one employed by the NIH. Every grant proposal submitted to APDA is assigned to three or four of the members of the SAB who review it and give it a score from 1-9 – one being the most impactful and well thought out and nine being the least. Once the preliminary scores are in, the top one third of the proposals are designated for review by the entire SAB at the annual meeting.
At this meeting, one member of the SAB is assigned to briefly present each grant proposal to the entire team. Then the strengths and weakness of each proposal are discussed and debated. Each member of the SAB then gives a score, again from 1 to 9. At the end of the day, the grants are listed in order of their scores. The SAB suggests a cut off below which they would not fund the grants even if funding was available because of insufficient quality. However, above that cut off, the limitation of whether the grants are approved boils down to availability of APDA funds.
While together, the SAB also reviewed grants for new APDA Centers for Advanced Research, located at academic medical centers across the United States that have proven themselves as leaders in PD research.
A Behind the Scenes Look at the SAB
It was exciting for APDA leadership to watch the SAB debate the merits and weaknesses of the grants in an intellectually rigorous and honest manner. Grant topics were wide-ranging and included basic biology of alpha-synuclein, imaging techniques to probe the nature of PD, the role of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract in PD, biomarkers for PD, physiological underpinnings of gait disorder in PD, and the list goes on. It was clear from the grant submissions that there is no shortage of research ideas which may lead to increased understanding of and eventually cure for PD. The only shortage is in the available funding. Readers who would like to do something about this, can follow this link to help support APDA’s work.
This was my first SAB meeting for APDA and I saw for myself the level of detail and scrutiny that goes into the evaluation of the proposals and the mindfulness that goes into each decision. If you’re reading this blog, you are clearly interested in PD and the work we do at APDA and I hope this behind-the-scenes explanation of how it all happens gives you confidence that APDA is working hard to fund really smart and impactful research that will make a difference for people living with PD.
Stay tuned for the formal announcement of the grant recipients which takes place around July, accompanied by a full description of the innovative ideas that APDA will be funding!