Say YES to Ending Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases Today

Raised toward our $50,000 Goal
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Project ends on September 30, at 11:59 PM EDT
Project Owners

Project Launch Letter

March 11, 2024

Dear Classmates,

This letter comes from eight of your classmates. We want to tell you about an ambitious plan we’ve been working on for nearly a year, one that requires a team far larger than the eight of us. Our plan has everything to do with picturing a future, distant or not, without Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) or Parkinson’s Disease (PD), and a present, where labs work collaboratively and in partnership with each other on new paths that lead to eradicating these linked diseases.

We know how widespread this class of diseases is. In America alone, one of us is diagnosed with AD every 65 seconds; with PD, every nine minutes. This is simply untenable, especially for the Baby Boomer generation. We’ve seen our parents and grandparents die of these illnesses. Now, far too many of our own close friends, family, classmates and peers have been diagnosed.

This fight has to be ours. And it’s as personal and urgent as it gets. We have the will, the muscle, and the heart as a generation to take on big issues. And we number in the tens of millions. So, rather than waiting for good news to emerge from the labs, what if we become part of the solution and work together to help shut these diseases down?

To that end, we’ve assembled a select team of scientists, and one science writer to tell you what we’ve been up to. You’ll see our names and short bios at the end of this letter.

Our plan is unique. We’re focused first on raising money from our peers, as they have the most to gain and are the most in need. Where will the money go? Directly to a carefully selected, highly promising lab already dedicated to curing these diseases.

Over the past nine months, we’ve identified a dozen such labs in the U.S. and Canada. While these are prestigious and generally well funded labs, it’s not uncommon for them to have worthy projects stuck on hold awaiting targeted funding. That’s the sweet spot for us, the place where what we’re offering is truly needed.  

Of the many labs we’ve considered, one stood out – a seasoned, innovative university lab staffed with impeccably trained neuroscientists and neurologists: Drs. Ted M. and Valina L. Dawson Lab at Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine in Baltimore, part of the Institute for Cell Engineering Neuroregeneration Program (ICE). 

Here’s what’s happening in the Dawson lab:

  • As cell engineers, the Dawsons study neuronal cell death and survival, the molecular roots of neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Diseases.
  • If you’re asking why place these two diseases under one research umbrella, here’s the answer. Although PD and AD are very different, they share common mechanisms of neurodegeneration. The Dawsons’ research focuses on the role of these shared mechanisms, capitalizing on the opportunity to make a substantial impact on both disorders. 
  • There are no proven therapies that slow the progression of PD and AD at this time, necessitating a paradigm shift in new approaches to treat these disorders, according to Ted Dawson
  • To that end, the Dawson Lab sought, then discovered, identified, and named a common cell death process in the brain that, until then, remained unknown. Called Parthanatos -- one of the messengers of death in Greek mythology – it's a mechanism by which cell death and eventually, neurodegeneration occur in diseases like PD and AD. The lab went on to define the mechanism by which Parthanatos causes cell death in neurodegenerative diseases, a critical leap.
  • From one leap to another, the lab developed PAANIB–1, a small molecule inhibitor of macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) nuclease. MIF nuclease is an enzyme that serves as the executioner of the Parthanatos pathway. PAANIB-1 has proved to be dramatically protective in multiple models of PD.

We see this lab as a perfect match for us, so much so that we said ”yes” to helping to support a 2023-24 postdoc fellow in the Dawson lab. Please join us in our goal of raising $50K. Your support is greatly appreciated!

Organizer Team Bios

March 11, 2024

Nancy Bronstein: MA, journalism, UC Berkeley; MA, archaeology, CUNY.

Senior Editor, science writer/reporter, College of Engineering, UC Berkeley. 

Nancy covered new research emerging from the Berkeley engineering labs for 15 years. In an earlier life, she curated a new anthropology hall at the California Academy of Sciences in S.F. A specialist in stone tools, her archaeology fieldwork included an ancient Aboriginal rockshelter in Australia’s Central Desert, a Chacoan Pueblo in northern New Mexico, and a Tsimshian burial site near Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Prof. Eric Gruenstein: PhD, Biochemistry, Duke University 

Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry & Neuroscience, University of Cincinnati, College of Medicine. Eric’s research focuses on the cellular and molecular basis of learning and memory. Author of numerous peer-reviewed papers directly related to Alzheimer’s disease, Eric received the Just Community Award from the University of Cincinnati, as well as several teaching awards, and was elected a member in the Academy of Fellows for Teaching and Learning.

Pat (Jaffe) GruensteinBS-RN, Adelphi University

Pat worked as a public health and family medicine specialist in inner city clinics with pregnant teens providing health counseling and prenatal care. She taught basic nursing skills at the University of Cincinnati, College of Nursing, and for 10 years, volunteered at Cincinnati’s Children's Hospital working with preschoolers who had Cerebral Palsy or Autism.

James Wynne: PhD, Applied Physics, Harvard University

Manager for nonlinear spectroscopy, laser physics, chemistry, biology and molecular physics at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, NY. Jim pioneered the use of excimer lasers for medical applications, notably LASIK surgery; and is now testing smart scalpel technology, an application of the ArF Excimer Laser, to remove severely burned necrotic skin without collateral damage to underlying tissue and adjacent viable tissue. Jim received the prestigious National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Russ Prize, the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the R.W. Wood Prize from the Optical Society of America. He was elected a Member of the NAE, elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, and inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame

Partner Team Bios

March 11, 2024

Prof. Janet Chernela: PhD w/Honors, Anthropology, Columbia University

Janet worked among the indigenous people of the Amazon basin in Brazil for more than three decades. Her career launched at the British Museum of Natural History, then the American Museum of Natural History working on the South American Hall. Her doctoral fieldwork took her to an “upriver” village along the Colombian-Brazilian border in Amazonia, where she worked for 18 months, work that inspired a life of research and, as she says, no shortage of questions. 

Not long after completing her initial fieldwork, she joined the research faculty of the National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA) in Manaus as the institute’s first anthropologist. She taught anthropology at Florida International University for 20 years, and then at University of Maryland for 18 more. Janet founded and is long-term consultant for the Association of Indigenous Women of the Upper Rio Negro (AMARN): the first and oldest indigenous organization in Brazil. 

Jeanne Lengsfelder: PhD, Psychology, UC Berkeley

Jeanne’s parents immigrated to Argentina in 1939, fleeing the Nazi's. There her father, Walter Lengsfelder, a chemical engineer/perfumer, reformulated Chanel #5 for Coco Chanel into the perfume it is today. During the war, he and Coco exchanged letters about the perfume’s new formula, letters that were intercepted by the FBI. Believing that “Chanel #5” was a code word, her father was suspected of being a German spy. Jeanne’s father, known as one of the five great perfumers in the world at that time, went on to develop perfumes for Revlon and Cody in America. Instructor in Psychology at the College of Marin, private practice psychotherapist for 30 years, and a Staff Psychologist at the Berkeley Therapy Institute, in 2000, Jeanne started using her interpersonal skills plus her love for investments as a realtor in Berkeley, CA.

Arthur Levi, MBA, Finance, Columbia Business School

A long-time resident of western Europe, Arthur’s storied career in international finance at the World Bank took him from continent to continent. For 10 years, as Senior Project Office, he was responsible for loan activities in East and West Africa. For the next 20, he moved to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Investment Bank of the World Bank Group, working in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Russia, and China. The IFC’s key focus is investing with the private sector, to help finance projects in emerging markets.

In the late 90’s, Art served as knowledge manager of IFC’s FinancialMarket groups – 1/2 of IFC;s investments, worldwide, are in financial Markets. From 2000-2004, he was head of IFC Europe, where his last post was in Paris. Formally retiring in 2004, Art continued working in emerging markets, mostly in Africa, in the country where his career began as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya.

Dr. Steve Sharfstein, MD, Psychiatry, Yeshiva University/Albert Einstein Medical School; and M.P.A. Harvard Kennedy School of Government

A specialist in brain diseases, Steve is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and President Emeritus of Sheppard Pratt Health System, the largest behavioral healthcare system in Maryland. It was during Steve’s tenure there that Sheppard Pratt evolved from a psychiatric hospital into a health system with more than 38 locations throughout Maryland.

A practicing clinician for more than 45 years, Steve is best known for his research and writing on the economics of practice and public mental health policy. Past President of the American Psychiatric Association and The American College of Psychiatrists, he is officially retired, but continues to see patients and teach residents and PhDs. He has received numerous awards, including the Human Rights Award in 2007 from the American Psychiatric Association, and Is Co-Editor of The Textbook of Hospital Psychiatry (2 nd Edition, 2022).

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