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BMC at the Forefront of Parkinson’s Research

BMC is one of 18 sites that will identify biomarkers of the progression of Parkinsons disease.
BMC is one of 18 sites worldwide that will participate in a landmark PPMI
study to find a biomarker for Parkinson’s disease.

Each year, 50,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Yet, nearly 150 years since the disease was first identified, the cause is still unclear, and a cure remains elusive. As an official site for a new landmark clinical study, Boston Medical Center (BMC) and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) are working to provide answers.

BMC/BUSM was selected as one of 18 official sites across the country to identify biomarkers of Parkinson’s disease progression. Called the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), the study is sponsored by The Michael J. Fox Foundation and will use a combination of advanced imaging, biologics sampling and behavioral assessments to find measurable physical characteristics which change in congruence with the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

Examples of well-known biomarkers currently used in medicine include high blood pressure, which can indicate risk of stroke, and high cholesterol levels, which can indicate risk for cardiovascular disease. No such biological indicator currently exists for Parkinson's disease.

“PPMI holds potential not only to accelerate the development of breakthrough Parkinson’s treatments for the future, but also to improve diagnosis and treatment of today’s generation of Parkinson’s disease patients,” said Samuel Frank, M.D., principal investigator of the study and movement disorder specialist with the Department of Neurology at BMC/BUSM. “We’ve been at the forefront of Parkinson’s disease research for years in Boston. It is deeply meaningful to have been selected as a PPMI site and to have our commitment to speeding Parkinson’s solutions recognized.”

The lack of a Parkinson’s disease biomarker impedes diagnosis and treatment, and also critically stalls the development of improved therapies, particularly therapies to slow or stop the progression of the disease, something no currently available treatment can do. Clinical trials of new, potentially disease-modifying Parkinson’s treatments are at risk of yielding inconclusive results, because there is no way to measure the effects of those treatments objectively.

The PPMI clinical study at BMC/BUSM will enroll 20 patients and 10 controls. It is expected to begin this summer and will continue for approximately two years.

A progressive neurological disorder, Parkinson’s most notably affects the body’s ability to control movement. People with advanced stages of the disease often suffer from stiffness, slow movement and tremors. As one of only nine Advanced Centers for Research in the country, as recognized by the American Parkinson’s Disease Association, BMC offers advanced treatments and access to clinical trials offered nowhere else in the region. The Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Center evaluates and treats more than 2,000 patients annually, and researchers and clinicians at BMC and BUSM are at the forefront of discovery for new treatments.