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Congressman Higgins Announces Nearly $400,000 Federal Grant for Parkinson’s Disease Research at the University at Buffalo

Oct 6, 2017
Press Release

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) announced a federal grant totaling $398,750 for clinical research at the State University of New York at Buffalo (UB) focused on Parkinson’s disease.  The award is provided through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 

“Parkinson’s is a difficult, progressive condition with no cure,” said Congressman Higgins.  “This federal investment in research conducted right here in Western New York hopes to provide new clues into the disease and how we can better treat it.”

Parkinson’s disease is a motor system disorder resulting from the loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain.  The new award from NINDS will support Dr. Feng’s continued research into how mutations in the parkin gene affect dopamine neurons in the brain, leading to Parkinson’s disease.

“During the past few years, we have made a lot of progress,” said Jian Feng, PhD, professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB. “We have found a way to make human neurons in a dish that are very similar to human dopamine neurons in patients’ brains. This is critical since it is the only way we can study live neurons. Using stem cell technology, we are able to make these human neurons. This has allowed us to study them directly to find out why parkin mutations cause these neurons to become more fragile. If we can find a way to mimic the protective function of parkin, then we will be able to find a therapy for Parkinson’s.”

Feng’s research has led UB to enter into discussions with several pharmaceutical companies and to file for patent protection.

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 50,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease annually and about 500,000 people have the disease.

Congressman Higgins is co-chair and founding member of the bipartisan House of Representatives National Institutes of Health Caucus and lead sponsor of the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act, which proposes incremental increases in funding to the NIH.