Grant applications are being sought in the US for the development and feasibility testing of web-based tools that would enable Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients to take part in clinical research without having to leave their homes.

The initiative, called Developing and Validating Web-Based Clinical Assessments for Parkinson’s Disease, was launched by The Michael J. Fox Foundation, which is offering up to $1 million in funding for projects lasting up to two years. The Foundation is looking for three deliverables in particular:

- the development of an assessment tool that will be available to Parkinson’s disease patients through the internet;

- the creation of a technological infrastructure through which patients will be able to access the tool;

- the design and implementation of a pilot study to test efficacy.

Pre-proposals, which must be submitted online by 14 May 2008, will be reviewed by the Foundation’s scientific staff and a panel of scientific experts. Applicants whose pre-proposals meet the review criteria will be invited to submit full application proposals. It is expected that funding will be available by October 2008.

Historically, clinical research in Parkinson’s and other diseases has required patients to travel for in-person interviews, examinations and tests, the Foundation pointed out. “This is a burden for anyone living with a disease, and takes an incredible toll on people with PD, where unpredictable motor and non-motor effects, as well as the efficacy and side-effects of medication, vary from day to day,” it added.

Efficiency boost?
A web-based clinical assessment “can never entirely take the place of face-to-face interactions between patients and researchers”, commented Katie Hood, chief executive officer of The Michael J. Fox Foundation. “But as a supplemental measure it could heighten efficiency and help speed progress toward new treatments by increasing, for a given trial, the amount and breadth of information from which to draw conclusions.”

According to Dr Todd Sherer, the Foundation’s vice-president of research programmes, web-based clinical assessment could also provide a more complete picture of Parkinson’s disease symptoms by enabling studies to test certain functions at home and throughout the day.