Opening access to ‘vital’ cell lines

Michael J. Fox Foundation looks ‘back to the future’ toward a speedy cure for Parkinson’s disease

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MANASSAS, Va.—Aimed at speeding faster toward a cure for Parkinson’s disease, a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder affecting at least one million people in the U.S., the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) has selected the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), a global non-profit biological repository, to provide, for the very first time, vital cell lines to academic, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies for research.
The MJFF was founded in 2000 by Canadian-born, award-winning actor Michael J. Fox, shortly after he came out about his own Parkinson’s diagnosis. Fox and his band of staffers and volunteers had high hopes that aggressive fundraising and research would have led to a cure by 2015.
But the Parkinson’s disease families and network have come to realize that the race for a cure to a disorder that destroys the ability to walk a straight line is more like a 26.2-mile marathon than a 50-yard dash.
Parkinson’s disease affects one in 100 people over age 60, but some have been diagnosed as young as 18. Fox was diagnosed at age 30 in 1991, but chose to go public seven years later. Recent research indicates that more than 5 million people worldwide suffer with Parkinson’s.
Under the terms of the agreement with ATCC announced Oct. 8, the Mannasas, Va.-based headquarters will “provide services and products to the global scientific community, working to take on this challenging disease,” Renee Randall, director of marketing communications and public relations at ATCC, stated in a news release.
“Our mission is to acquire, authenticate, preserve, develop, standardize and distribute biological materials and information for the advancement and application of scientific knowledge to improve the health of global populations,” Randall stated.
“Specifically, ATCC will provide MJFF with cell line authentication, mycoplasma testing and repository management services,” Randall said. “ATCC will also produce and validate custom master cell banks (MCBs) from macrophage cell lines provided by MJFF, including wild-type LRRK2, LRRK2 knockout and human LRRK2 T1348N (GTPase-dead) knockin.”
Raymond Cyrpess, CEO at ATCC, stated in a news release, “At our core, ATCC is about contributing to breakthrough scientific discoveries through the provision of high-quality biological products and services. We are honored to partner with The Michael J. Fox Foundation to accelerate breakthroughs in Parkinson’s disease research.”
As the “premier biological resource center that global researchers have relied on for 90 years, ATCC has been privileged to work with outstanding organizations, such as The Michael J. Fox Foundation, and we look forward to partnering with additional foundations,” Cypress added.
Terina Martinez, associate director of research programs at MJFF, stated, “These cell lines are important tools for our efforts to advance understanding of Parkinson’s disease and further drug development toward new therapies for the millions living with this disease.
“We’re pleased to be working toward these goals with ATCC, a well-regarded organization with the capabilities and track record to help us serve the Parkinson’s research community,” she said.
Martinez tells DDNews, “The Michael J. Fox Foundation develops critical laboratory tools and makes them available to the scientific community affordably and efficiently to speed the pace of Parkinson’s research toward greater understanding of the disease and development of new treatments for patients.”
ATCC “contributes to breakthrough scientific discoveries by delivering authenticated, high-quality biological products and services to researchers in more than 150 countries,” Martinez notes.
What makes “the ATCC cell lines 'vital' to the research community is that they are genomically altered to overexpress mutant versions of full-length LRRK2 (mutations that have been linked to human PD cases) in an inflammation-relevant cell line (macrophages), which normally expresses high levels of wild-type LRRK2 and is in a pathway (inflammation) that may be important in PD progression,” according to Martinez.
“This isn’t trivial, because the full-length LRRK2 is very difficult to work with and manipulate and to express constitutively at meaningful levels in cell lines, and prior to this MJFF/ATCC partnership, no such cell lines were available to the research community,” she adds.
These are the “first cell lines to express full-length LRRK2 mutations and thus may assist in therapies aimed at correcting or lowering deleterious LRRK2 signaling,” Martinez said.
As for the cost, MJFF has “contracted ATCC for the characterization, validation, biobanking and distribution of the cell lines, and made a grant to the company for such work,” Martinez said. “There is a cost to researchers for purchase of the cell lines, but MJFF and ATCC have set a reasonable price.”
Neither organization would disclose the specific financials of the collaboration.
This special cell line collection will be established by the end of the first quarter of 2016.
Since its inception in 2000, the Michael J. Fox Foundation has funded more than $525 million in Parkinson’s research.
ATCC “collaborates with and supports the scientific community with industry-standard products and innovative solutions,” Randall says. “With the world’s largest and most diverse collection of human, animal and plant cell lines, as well as molecular genomic tools, microorganisms and biological products, ATCC is a trusted biological resource for the worldwide research community.”
Known as an eternal optimist, Fox describes his life’s work in the MJFF October newsletter:
“We’ve come a long way since 1985,” Fox stated. “When Marty McFly and Doc Brown (in the debut of the Back to the Future trilogy) traveled 30 years into the future, we could only imagine the innovations we take for granted today—new ideas and technologies that have completely changed the way we live, learn and work.
“Back then, if you’d told me that I’d go from talking on a cell phone to talking cell biology, I would never have believed you,” he says. “But today, The Michael J. Fox Foundation is helping to spearhead research collaborations to speed a future in which in which we can treat, cure and even prevent brain diseases like Parkinson’s.”
So “what’s possible in another 30 years?” Fox asks. “Call me an optimist, but I believe that by 2045 we’ll find the cures we seek—especially because of all the smart, passionate people working to make it happen. We can’t all be brain scientists, but all of us can get involved. One reason Parkinson’s research has come so far in the past 15 years is that people and families living with the disease have stepped up as advocates and innovators themselves, working to build the future we all want.”

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