Press Release

19 Feb 2015

National non-profit KiMe Fund contributes thousands to Van Andel Research Institute to promote Parkinson’s disease research

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (February 19, 2015) — The KiMe Cure Neurological Disorders Fund (KiMe Fund), a national non-profit organization established through the East Tennessee Foundation, today announced it has donated $25,000 to Van Andel Research Institute’s (VARI) Center for Neurodegenerative Science (CNS). The contribution will help fund innovative research currently underway at VARI that aims to determine how mutations in a gene called VPS35 cause inherited Parkinson’s disease.

Currently, very little is known about how mutations in VPS35 cause Parkinson’s. Previous reports have shown that people who carry a mutated form of VPS35 develop Parkinson’s, and their children have a 50 percent risk of also developing the disease. Scientists in VARI’s CNS plan to generate new genetic models to define the role of mutant VPS35 in the degeneration of dopamine-producing nerve cells, which leads to hallmark Parkinson’s symptoms like rigidity and slow movement.

The project also will examine the interaction between VPS35 and the protein alpha-synuclein. In recent years, alpha-synuclein has become a key focus area for Parkinson’s scientists as it is the main component of Lewy bodies, groups of proteins found in the brains of all people with Parkinson’s. Though the project’s main focus is on inherited Parkinson’s, which accounts for five to 10 percent of Parkinson’s cases, the study also has significant implications for non-inherited forms of the disease.

The KiMe Fund selected VARI based on CNS Director Dr. Patrik Brundin’s reputation as world-renowned Parkinson’s disease scientist and his ambitious plans to build a leading Parkinson’s research program, said Michigan-based business leader and philanthropist Deanna Hatmaker, vice chair and a director of the KiMe Fund Advisory Board.

“Van Andel Research Institute’s CNS has a strong and growing program focused on finding a cure for Parkinson’s,” said Hatmaker. “The KiMe Fund is proud to support VARI’s innovative neurological research that is aimed at making inroads that could one day lead to disease-modifying therapies and ultimately a cure.”

The project involves several scientists within VARI’s CNS, including Brundin, the center’s director and head of the Laboratory of Translational Parkinson’s Disease Research; Jeremy Van Raamsdonk, Ph.D., assistant professor and head of the Laboratory of Aging and Neurodegenerative Disease; and Darren Moore, Ph.D., associate professor and head of the Laboratory of Molecular Neurodegeneration. Trevor Tyson, Ph.D., a research scientist in the center, will conduct much of the laboratory work.

After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2009, Steven Hodges, a business leader and public speaker, established the KiMe Fund (www.kimecnd.org) to support innovative approaches to Parkinson’s research.  Hodges named the fund after his daughters, Kim and Megan, to serve as a constant reminder of the KiMe Fund’s goal to find a cure before the next generation has to face this disease.

“During our process of evaluating potential candidates to receive donations, it became apparent quickly that VARI shares our commitment to focus on finding a cure for Parkinson’s,” said Hodges. “We are hopeful that their research will help to achieve that objective. It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.”

About one million people in the U.S. have Parkinson’s disease, along with seven to 10 million people worldwide. There currently is no cure for Parkinson’s and treatment options are limited. The KiMe Fund’s donation will help VARI conduct vital research that may one day lead to new therapies.

“We are incredibly grateful to the KiMe Fund for this generous gift,” said Love Collins, III, vice president of Development, Communications and Marketing for Van Andel Institute. “Mr. Hodges’s commitment to fighting this disease is an inspiration to us all.”

ABOUT VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE

Van Andel Institute (VAI) is an independent biomedical research and science education organization committed to improving the health and enhancing the lives of current and future generations. Established by Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996, VAI is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Van Andel Research Institute (VARI), VAI’s research division, is dedicated to determining the epigenetic, genetic, molecular and cellular origins of cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases and working to translate those findings into effective therapies. More than 270 scientists and support staff work in on-site laboratories and in collaborative partnerships that span the globe. Find out more about Van Andel Institute or donate by visiting www.vai.org. 100% To Research, Discovery & Hope®