UAB’s Standaert honored for dystonia research

UAB Parkinson’s disease expert David Standaert and an Italian colleague have received the fifth annual Bachmann-Strauss Prize for Excellence in Dystonia Research.

Standaert2Part of the dystonia research team at UAB: Karen Jaunarajs, PhD; Lori McMahon, PhD; David Standaert, MD, PhD; and Mariangela Scarduzio, PhD. The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research has announced David G. Standaert, M.D., Ph.D., John N. Whitaker Professor and chairman of neurology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Antonio Pisani, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurology at the University of Rome Tor Vergata in Italy, as the recipients of the fifth annual Bachmann-Strauss Prize for Excellence in Dystonia Research.

The prize honors dystonia researchers for key scientific discoveries and provides incentive for the next generation of investigators to continue forging paths toward cures. Michael J. Fox and Todd Sherer, Ph.D., MJFF CEO, presented the prize to Pisani and Standaert at a Foundation event in New York City on Nov. 16.

“Drs. Pisani and Standaert have made significant strides in plotting the cellular dysfunction that leads to dystonia,” said Bonnie Strauss, who in 1995 founded The Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia & Parkinson Foundation, which launched a collaborative research alliance with MJFF in 2015. “This team has laid the groundwork for development and testing of new therapies to help those living with dystonia.”

Strauss, who currently sits on MJFF’s Board of Directors, was diagnosed with dystonia in 1984.

Pisani and Standaert published their first paper together in 2006 and are now co-authors on nine articles detailing the pathology of dystonia, a movement disorder characterized by painful, prolonged muscle contractions that result in abnormal movements and postures. Dystonia is both a distinct movement disorder and a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease. The collaborators’ work examines the role and relationship of neurotransmitter activity in dystonia. They have profiled an imbalance in dopamine and acetylcholine activity in a type of dystonia with onset typically in adolescence.

Both Pisani and Standaert are practicing clinicians as well, learning from their patients to inform their laboratory research and applying learnings from the bench at the bedside. 

The award is accompanied by an unrestricted research grant of $100,000 to support a joint research effort. The researchers will use the funds to study several models of a genetic form of dystonia toward better understanding of the mutation’s effect. 

“We are honored to receive the prestigious Bachmann-Strauss Prize,” Pisani said. “It means we are working in the right direction for our findings to be recognized with such an award, and that we can continue building knowledge toward new treatments and cures.”

“This work with Antonio is a very productive collaboration that has been an engine for discovery,” Standaert said. “There is a tremendous need for more research in this field, and more researchers. I hope this recognition from Bachmann-Strauss and MJFF will demonstrate to young investigators that there is support and encouragement for research in dystonia and will attract more of them to this field.”

Read more about the Bachmann-Strauss Prize for Excellence in Dystonia Research and the contributions of its recipients on the MJFF website.