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8:46 PM Mon, Sept. 24th

NIEHS looks for environmental causes of Parkinson's disease

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will award three grants totaling $21.3 million over a five-year period to study how environmental factors contribute to the cause, prevention and treatment of Parkinson's disease and other related disorders.

Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects nerve cells, or neurons, in several parts of the brain, including neurons that use the chemical messenger dopamine to control muscle movement. More than one million Americans suffer from Parkinson's disease, with approximately 60,000 new cases reported each year. The average age of onset is 60 years, though people have been diagnosed as young as 18.

"Given the growing body of literature that is identifying environmental stressors such as pesticides as risk factors for Parkinson's disease, it is more important than ever that we bring clinical and basic scientists together to clarify the causes of this disease," said Cindy Lawler, Ph.D., program administrator at NIEHS. The three grants will go to:

• Gary Miller, Ph.D., Emory University. Parkinson's disease has been linked to pesticide exposure, mitochondrial damage and altered storage of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dr. Miller and his team will be looking at how environmental and genetic factors interact to alter these functions in dopamine neurons.

• Marie-Françoise Chesselet, M.D., Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles. The researchers at UCLA have previously shown associations between high levels of exposure to specific pesticides and Parkinson's disease and will build on this knowledge to determine the mechanisms of action that may be causing this association.

• Stuart Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., Burnham Institute for Medical Research. Investigators at the Burnham Institute will explore how environmental toxicants may contribute to Parkinson's disease by producing free radical stress that mimics or enhances the effects of known genetic mutations.

"As a patient advocacy group, we are thrilled to see that NIEHS is continuing its research investment in this disease," said Amy Rick, chief executive officer of the Parkinson's Action Network (PAN) (www.parkinsonsaction.org), an advocacy group for Parkinson's research.

"We hope that with greater understanding of the role of environmental factors in causing Parkinson's disease, we will make great strides in finding better prevention and treatment approaches."

NIEHS supports research to understand the effects of the environment on human health. For more information on environmental health topics, go to www.niehs.nih.gov.