Meeting of the (PD) Minds: Recap of the 2024 ASAP CRN Meeting
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Meeting of the (PD) Minds: Recap of the 2024 ASAP CRN Meeting

  • ASAP

    Hetal Shah, PhD

    Aligning Science Across Parkinson's (ASAP) | USA

    Dr. Hetal Shah is a Program Officer at the Coalition for Aligning Science, with workstreams in both neurodegeneration and neurodevelopment. Dr. Shah primarily works on CAS’ flagship initiative, Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s (ASAP), a discovery science initiative aimed at unraveling the etiology of Parkinson’s disease.

Since ASAP launched the Collaborative Research Network (CRN), members of the CRN teams have participated in various virtual interest tracks to learn about emerging research in the Parkinson’s disease (PD) field and the newest resources from ASAP and other teams. Every year, we also host an in-person meeting to bring the network together. These in-person meetings are designed to build community and foster an environment within the CRN that facilitates the rapid and free exchange of scientific ideas to spark new discoveries for Parkinson’s.

As the first and second rounds of funding come to a close, Core Leadership across the 35 CRN teams came together for a week-long meeting to highlight their teams’ most impactful contributions to the PD research field since the start of their award. With over 1000 research outputs generated and over 300 articles published, there was a lot of information to share. This year, ASAP also welcomed external assessors and representatives from other global PD funders ranging from nonprofit organizations to government and venture capital representatives, allowing them to learn more about the research from CRN teams and to evaluate their impact on the PD research landscape.

Our North Star 

At the heart of ASAP’s mission is the drive to help people living with PD by accelerating the pace of discovery to inform the path to a cure. Omotola Thomas, a mom of 2, was diagnosed with PD at the young age of 35. She and her daughter kicked off the meeting discussing their experiences with PD. Her 14 year old daughter captivated the room with her impassioned speech remarking “I have no memories of my mom not shaking. None…Despite having Parkinson’s disease, my mom is still the epitome of a strong role model. For my whole life, she taught me strength, knowledge, resilience, while simultaneously fighting Parkinson’s disease with inspiring grace.”

Omotola’s Parkinson’s diagnosis inspired her to found Parkinson’s Africa, the first and only pan-Africa charity for PD. As Omotola spoke about her own experiences, she reminded the audience to remember their why – the north star for why they were part of the ASAP community – because guided by this motivation, they can and will make a difference in the PD research world and more importantly in the lives of those living with PD. 

Impact to PD

The formal program began each day with a keynote address from external attendees, galvanizing conversation as they presented PD-relevant research ranging from the interplay of the immune system and the brain to the current PD therapeutics pipeline. Once keynote addresses concluded, teams broke into parallel sessions focused on showcasing team contributions to date. Each team presentation ended with thoughtful questions from the audience. 

Conversations continued to flow over meals and breaks with endless curiosity and enthusiasm discussing the research. Throughout the week, the tenets of ASAP shone brightly as team after team lauded the collaborative efforts within their teams and across the network, detailed impressive research-enabling tools, and highlighted where and how all of their protocols, datasets, code, and tools were currently or would soon be shared with both ASAP and the broader PD community. Check out the ASAP Catalog of resources for research outputs that have been shared to date. 

The true testament of ASAP’s values came as teams continued to learn, share, and collaborate. In a post-event survey, 98% of attendees noted that they learned something new at the meeting. 

Reflecting on the ASAP Model

ASAP made big bets over a short time course. We trust our vision that to tackle Parkinson’s, you need multidisciplinary global teams that can collaborate at scale. This meeting, and the ones that preceded it, exemplifies that all you need is a willing and able group of researchers, support and guidance from funders and leadership, and a collaborative environment to make meaningful strides. To learn more about what our teams have been doing, please visit our team pages. We thank the CRN teams for their commitment to ASAP’s mission, to their embrace of discourse throughout the meeting, and look forward to ongoing collaborations.