Van Andel Research Institute announces Rallying to the Challenge panelists


Grand Rapids, Mich. (Sept. 4, 2014) Van Andel Research Institute is excited to announce the panelists for Rallying to the Challenge, a meeting focused on people with Parkinson’s and their contributions to clinical trials.

Rallying to the Challenge will address barriers to clinical trials and examine how people with Parkinson’s can work with scientists and clinicians to improve the clinical trial process. The panel is made up of some of the world’s leading Parkinson’s disease advocates and will have representatives from some of the most well known Parkinson’s disease organizations in the world.

“By getting everyone—people with Parkinson’s, scientists, doctors, caregivers and advocates—in one room, we have a unique opportunity to have real and impactful discussions,” said Dr. Patrik Brundin, VARI Associate Director of Research and Director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Science. “These discussions will inform the development of a toolkit to aid in the design of clinical trials, which we hope will have a positive impact on patients and scientists alike.”

Rallying to the Challenge will include breakout sessions that will focus on three areas—practicalities, perceptions and teamwork. The last point—teamwork—will be the focus of a talk given by Brian Grant, a retired professional athlete who played 12 seasons as a power forward in the NBA. Grant founded the Brian Grant Foundation after he was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson’s disease in 2008.

The panel includes:

David Ashford-Jones—Parkinson’s disease advocate

Cherise Bjornsgard—Executive Director, the Brian Grant Foundation

Jean Burns—Co-founder, PDPlan4Life; Co-chair of the Parkinson’s Advocates Committee, World Parkinson Congress 2016

Jill Carson—ParkinGo Wellness Society founder, Canada

Ken Cater—Parkinson’s Association of Alabama president

Polly Dawkins—Executive Director, Davis Phinney Foundation

Steve DeWitt—Parkinson’s Movement Steering Committee member; founder and CEO, Connecticut Advocates for Parkinson’s

Brian Grant—Founder of the Brian Grant Foundation, retired NBA star

Sam Hafield—CEO, The Cure Parkinson’s Trust

Tom Isaacs—Co-founder of The Cure Parkinson’s Trust and Parkinson’s Movement

Alan Lewin—Project associate, The Cure Parkinson’s Trust

Bruce Mabee—Parkinson’s Disease Foundation research advocate; Lead facilitator and president, Ann Arbor’s Parkinson’s Support Group

Claudia Marshall—Research Partnership Assistant, Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research

Helen Matthews—Trust Coordinator, The Cure Parkinson’s Trust

Dr. Soania Mathur—Parkinson’s disease advocate; Patient Council member, Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research

Samuel Ng—President and co-founder, Perak Parkinson’s Association (Malaysia)

Dr. Jon Palfreman— Award-winning author, journalist and documentary film producer

Eli Pollard—Executive Director, World Parkinson Coalition

Israel Robledo—Parkinson’s Movement Steering Committee member

Ron Rutkowski—Parkinson’s disease advocate

Dr. Peter Schmidt—CIO and Vice President, Research and Professional Programs—National Parkinson Foundation

Dr. Jon Stamford—Director and co-founder of Parkinson’s Movement

Ryan Tripp—Canadian ambassador for the World Parkinson Congress

Dr. Claire Stephenson—Research Support Network Manager, Parkinson’s UK

Bill Wilkins—Charter member, Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research Patient Council;  charter member, Emory University’s Morris K. Udall Center of Excellence for Parkinson’s Disease Research Community Outreach Board

Peggy Willocks—World renowned Parkinson’s ambassador and clinical trial participant; assistant director, Parkinson’s Action Network-Tennessee

Richard Windle—Research Support Network Advocate, Parkinson’s UK

Rallying to the Challenge is hosted in conjunction with U.K.-based Parkinson’s research organization The Cure Parkinson’s Trust, and Parkinson’s Movement, a global task force of influential patient advocates committed to demonstrating the value of proactive roles for people with Parkinson’s in the clinical trial arena.

“Rallying to the Challenge represents a rare opportunity for key people with Parkinson’s from around the world to pool resources and to establish innovative ways to help accelerate progress in clinical trials for Parkinson’s,” said Tom Isaacs, co-founder of The Cure Parkinson’s Trust and Parkinson’s Movement. “The meeting will also give us a chance to discuss these ideas with the scientific community so that the barriers to development on new therapies can be overcome without delay.”

Rallying to the Challenge will be held during VARI’s Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease symposium on September 24-25 at Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich. Registration for Grand Challenges is open until Sept. 15. Registration for Rallying to the Challenge is currently closed. Please contact Kim Cousineau at or at 616.234.5684 for more information.

For more information on Rallying to the Challenge and Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease, please visit