Parkinson's Disease Fact Sheet

CIRM funds many projects seeking to better understand Parkinson's disease and to translate those discoveries into new therapies.


Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disease that affects nearly a million people in the United States. Symptoms include tremors, slow movement, muscle rigidity and less facial expression. Parkinson's disease occurs when the neurons or nerve cells in the portion of the brain that controls movement stop functioning properly. These neurons send signals using a molecule called dopamine, and are referred to as dopaminergic neurons. No cure exists for the disease and current medications become less effective over time.

Stem cell scientists are taking two general approaches to understanding and treating this disease. The first approach involves understanding the disease and looking for new drugs to treat it. CIRM grantees have taken skin cells from people with Parkinson’s disease, reprogrammed them back to an embryonic-like state, turning them into the kind of stem cell that can be transformed into any other cell in the body, then coaxing those cells to become the type of neuron that is affected by Parkinson’s disease. Those cells showed signs of the disease in the lab dish, and were distinctly different from the same cells created from healthy people.

Video: Progress and Promise in Developing a Cure for Parkinson's Disease

Being able to study human Parkinson’s disease cells in a lab dish is a major milestone. Now, scientists can expose those cells to different drugs to find the ones that eliminate signs of the disease. If scientists find drugs that treat the disease in a lab dish, they will then test those same drugs in animals and develop the most promising into a therapy for people with the disease. Several teams of CIRM-funded researchers are using stem cell techniques to create Parkinson’s disease cells in the lab dish and then screening them for new drugs.

Other groups are creating dopamine-producing cells in the lab dish with the hope that they could replace the neurons that are damaged in people with the disease. See below for a list of a CIRM-funded projects related to Parkinson's disease. 

CIRM Grants Targeting Parkinson's Disease

Researcher name Institution Grant Title Approved funds
Fred Gage Salk Institute for Biological Studies Molecular and Cellular Transitions from ES Cells to Mature Functioning Human Neurons $2,749,293
J. William Langston Parkinson's Institute Using patient-specific iPSC derived dopaminergic neurons to overcome a major bottleneck in Parkinson's disease research and drug discovery $3,698,646
Evan Snyder Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute Developmental Candidates for Cell-Based Therapies for Parkinson's Disease (PD) $5,190,752
David Schaffer University of California, Berkeley Directed Evolution of Novel AAV Variants for Enhanced Gene Targeting in Pluripotent Human Stem Cells and Investigation of Dopaminergic Neuron Differentiation $918,000
Lei Wang Salk Institute for Biological Studies Genetic Encoding Novel Amino Acids in Embryonic Stem Cells for Molecular Understanding of Differentiation to Dopamine Neurons $2,587,742
Michele Calos Stanford University Site-specific integration of Lmx1a, FoxA2, & Otx2 to optimize dopaminergic differentiation $1,592,897
Birgitt Schuele Parkinson's Institute Editing of Parkinson’s disease mutation in patient-derived iPSCs by zinc-finger nucleases $1,327,983
Susan McConnell Stanford University Identification and characterization of human ES-derived DA neuronal subtypes $1,404,853
Daniel Lim University of California, San Francisco Development and preclinical testing of new devices for cell transplantation to the brain. $1,795,891
Xianmin Zeng Buck Institute for Age Research Banking transplant ready dopaminergic neurons using a scalable process $4,983,013
David Schaffer University of California, Berkeley Engineering Defined and Scaleable Systems for Dopaminergic Neuron Differentiation of hPSCs $1,340,816
Fred Gage Salk Institute for Biological Studies Crosstalk: Inflammation in Parkinson’s disease (PD) in a humanized in vitro model $2,472,839
R. Jeremy Nichols Parkinson's Institute Understanding the role of LRRK2 in iPSC cell models of Parkinson's Disease $1,482,822
Zhuohua Zhang Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute Derivation of Parkinson's Disease Coded-Stem Cells (PD-SCs) $1,556,448
Stuart Lipton Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute hESC-derived NPCs Programmed with MEF2C for Cell Transplantation in Parkinson’s Disease $96,448
Su Guo University of California, San Francisco Identifying small molecules that stimulate the differentiation of hESCs into dopamine-producing neurons $542,619
Marcel Daadi Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute Neural Stem Cell-Based Therapy For Parkinson’s Disease $63,952
Susan McConnell Stanford University Optimization of guidance response in human embryonic stem cell derived midbrain dopaminergic neurons in development and disease $607,363
Steven Finkbeiner Gladstone Institutes Common molecular mechanisms in neurodegenerative diseases using patient based iPSC neurons $1,482,025
Zhuohua Zhang Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute Modeling Parkinson's Disease Using Human Embryonic Stem Cells $701,060
Dennis Steindler Parkinson's Institute Stem Cell Pathologies in Parkinson’s disease as a key to Regenerative Strategies $0
Stuart Lipton Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute MEF2C-Directed Neurogenesis From Human Embryonic Stem Cells $2,832,000
Xinnan Wang Stanford University Misregulated Mitophagy in Parkinsonian Neurodegeneration $1,174,943
Arnold Kriegstein University of California, San Francisco Derivation of Inhibitory Nerve Cells from Human Embryonic Stem Cells $2,410,874
David Schaffer University of California, Berkeley Engineered Biomaterials for Scalable Manufacturing and High Viability Implantation of hPSC-Derived Cells to Treat Neurodegenerative Disease $1,239,276

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