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Samay Jain, MD, June 2, 1974 – September 8, 2016

PITTSBURGH, September 28, 2016 – Department of Neurology and Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases mourns the loss of Dr. Samay Jain, MD.

PITTMED cover story: The Spring 2016 issue of PITTMED Magazine features the research of Department of Neurology and PIND (Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases) investigators Sarah Berman, Ed Burton, Tim Greenamyre and Laurie Sanders, as well as their collaborators and colleagues Robert Friedlander (Neurosurgery), Charleen Chu (Pathology), Ben Van Houten (Aging Institute) and Simon Watkins (Center for Biological Imaging). The story focuses on mitochondria in neurodegenerative diseases. For more information, see:

Pitt Researchers Find Key to Parkinson’s Disease Neurodegeneration

PITTSBURGH, June 8, 2016 – Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have uncovered a major reason why the Parkinson’s-related protein alpha-synuclein, a major constituent of the Lewy bodies that are the pathological hallmark of Parkinson’s disease (PD), is toxic to neurons in the brain. The finding has the potential to lead to new therapies that could slow or stop progression of the devastating illness. The new research appears online today in Science Translational Medicine.

PD is a degenerative neurological disease characterized by tremor, slowness, and gait and balance difficulties that affects about 1 million people in the United States. The symptoms are caused by the degeneration and loss of neurons in the brain, particularly those crucial for the initiation and coordination of movement.

“It’s really exciting that we have found a mechanism we can target to create new treatments for this devastating disease,” said lead investigator J. Timothy Greenamyre, M.D., Ph.D., Love Family Professor of Neurology in Pitt’s School of Medicine and director of the Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases (PIND).

PIND’s goal is an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to the study of neurodegenerative diseases and their mechanisms, with the aim of transforming cutting-edge science into novel therapies and diagnostics that directly benefit individuals affected by neurodegenerative diseases.

“With four different PIND investigators working together, the new study highlights the power of this collaborative approach,” Dr. Greenamyre added.

Current treatments for PD can reduce symptoms, but they do not slow the inevitable worsening of the disease. To slow or halt illness progression, scientists must first determine why and how the neurons are dying.

Degenerating neurons contain large clumps of a protein called alpha-synuclein. People whose cells make too much alpha-synuclein or make a mutated form of the protein are at high risk of developing PD because of the protein’s toxicity, researchers found. Scientists also demonstrated that the accumulation of alpha-synuclein in PD is toxic because it disrupts the normal functioning of mitochondria—the tiny powerhouses responsible for generating a cell’s energy.

In the new study, Dr. Greenamyre and his team—led by coauthors Roberto Di Maio, Ph.D., and Paul Barrett, Ph.D., both of PIND—used a well-established rodent model of PD to show exactly how alpha-synuclein disrupts mitochondrial function. They found that by attaching to a mitochondrial protein called TOM20, alpha-synuclein prevented the mitochondria from functioning optimally, which resulted in the production of less energy and more damaging cellular waste.

Ultimately, this interaction between alpha-synuclein and TOM20 leads to neurodegeneration, Dr. Greenamyre explained.

The researchers then confirmed their animal findings in brain tissue from people with PD.

“The effects of alpha-synuclein on mitochondria are like making a perfectly good coal-fueled power plant extremely inefficient, so it not only fails to make enough electricity, but also creates too much toxic pollution,” said Dr. Greenamyre.

Using cell cultures, the research team also found two ways to prevent the toxicity caused by alpha-synuclein: gene therapy that forced the neurons to make more TOM20 protein protected them from the alpha-synuclein; and a protein that was able to prevent alpha-synuclein from sticking to TOM20 prevented alpha-synuclein’s harmful effects on mitochondria.

While more research is needed to determine whether these approaches could help PD patients, Dr. Greenamyre is optimistic that one or both may ultimately make it into human clinical trials in an effort to slow or halt the otherwise inevitable progression of PD.

Coauthors of the study are Charleen Chu, M.D., Ph.D., Edward Burton, M.D., Ph.D., Teresa Hastings, Ph.D., Eric Hoffman, Ph.D., Caitlyn Barrett, Ph.D., Alevtina Zharikov, Ph.D., Anupom Borah, Ph.D., Xiaoping Hu, B.S., and Jennifer McCoy, B.S., all of PIND.

This work was supported by research grants from the DSF Charitable Foundation, the Ri.MED Foundation, the Consolidated Anti-Aging Foundation, the National Institutes of Health (grants NS095387, NS059806, ES022644, ES020718, ES020327, NS065789, AG026389 and P50AG005133), the United States Department of Veterans' Affairs (grant 1I01BX000548), the Blechman Foundation, the American Parkinson Disease Association and the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India.

McCandless woman 1st in region with implant aimed at halting seizures.

Blockbuster or Bust? Brain Waves May Predict Movie Success.

Dementia Expert Invited to Attend Young Leaders in Dementia Event at British Embassy

Eric McDade, DO, assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Neurology, has been invited to attend the U.S. Young Leaders Discussion Series for Innovative Ideas to Address Dementia at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Think Like a Doctor: Losing It.

3 health solutions come out on top in Pitt competition.

University of Pittsburgh Comprehensive Epilepsy Center (UPCEC) - that includes the Adult (PUH/LKB) and Pediatric (CHP) Epilepsy Divisions - reached an important milestone: 50 resective surgeries in 2013.

This places us in the group of most productive epilepsy centers in the Country. In fact, when compared with the most recent available data from the National Association of Epilepsy Centers (NAEC) from 2012, with our 50 resections in 2013, the UPCEC would be the 3rd most productive epilepsy center among 190 NAEC members.

We would like to thank both our hospitals for their support and resources, our leaderships for their encouragement, and primarily to our meticulous and eager neurosurgeons and compassionate and dedicated large epilepsy teams that include the EMU technologists, nurses, epileptologists and neuropsychologists in CHP and PUH - for sustained 24/7 efforts that ultimately made this success possible.

It is our hope that sustain level of support and encouragement will kindle even more creative synergy among and within our teams that will lead not only to an even higher clinical productivity but also to more and diverse epilepsy research.

Pitt to be part of network to prevent, treat strokes

The University of Pittsburgh will participate in a network of 25 regional stroke centers assembled to advance and streamline research on stroke prevention, treatment and recovery, the National Institutes of Health announced on Friday.

"This network represents a new and innovative approach to finding more effective methods to prevent and treat strokes," said Dr. Lawrence Wechsler, professor and chair of the Department of Neurology at Pitt's School of Medicine and founder of the UPMC Stroke Institute.

Pitt, which is working in coordination with the UPMC Stroke Institute, is the only network site in Western Pennsylvania.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke will coordinate and finance the network.

The regional stroke centers will receive $200,000 for research costs and $50,000 for training stroke-clinical researchers per year over the first three years.

"NIH StrokeNet will allow the most promising therapies to quickly advance to the clinic, to improve prevention, acute treatment, or rehabilitation of the stroke patient," said Dr. Walter J. Koroshetz, deputy director of the institute.

"You walk into a room and forget why you entered in the first place..."

Dr. Robert Sweet was interviewed in the December 2nd Herald-Standard article "Senior moments or something more?"

A Life Hijacked: Alzheimer's 'insidious' slide

A November 30th Pittsburgh Post Gazette article that illustrates the challenges both patients and families face in the struggle with Alzheimer's. The Department of Neurology's Dr. Lopez is featured.

Michael Zigmond was named an honorary member of the Indian Academy of Neuroscience (IAN) at its annual meeting in Allahabad, India, in October, 2013. The IAN has awarded honorary membership to about two dozen individuals since its inception in 1982.

Dr. Zigmond, who gave a plenary lecture at the meeting on his research relating exercise and neurotrophic factors to neuroprotection in models of Parkinson's disease, has been lecturing widely in developing countries for more than 20 years. The lectures include reviews of his research, as well as material related to professional development and the responsible conduct of science. Zigmond has received two other awards for these activities, the Order of the Lion from Senegal and an International Distinguished Professorship from the government of China.

Pennsylvania Neurological Society had its successful 7th Annual Meeting in combination with Abington Memorial Hospital, and the International Conference of Interventional Neurology. The meeting was attended by more than 200 physicians from all over the world.

PNS had organized education programs by distinguished faculty who were recognized Nationally and regionally in Dementia, Stroke, Clinical Neurophysiology, and Legislative affairs, all of them were well received. The student, resident and fellows section had overwhelming participation in the research section by submitting abstracts at the meeting. Dr Balaji Krishnaiah (PGY-1), Neurology Resident , Department of Neurology, Penn State Medical Center received the best abstract award.

PNS elected its Board Members and officers for the 2013-2015 as per our Bylaws. Dr Parthasarathy Thirumala was elected President, Dr Micheal Mazowicki was elected Vice President, and Dr Matt Wicklund was elected Secretary.

PNS represents 750 Neurologists and more than 250 Residents, and Fellows in the state of Pennsylvania with a mission to "Improve the science and practice of neurology in Pennsylvania via: Education, Advocacy and Exchange of ideas amongst neurologists". 

Comprehensive Stroke Center certification

On behalf of the UPMC Stroke Institute, we wanted to express our thanks to all who were involved in the preparations, day of survey activities, and post survey work.

Please share this exciting news with your staff who have worked so hard to achieve this. Without their dedication to providing the highest level of care, it would not have been possible.

We will be collecting data for the next 4 months on several areas that were identified during the survey. 

New York Times Article Predicts Lucrative Future for Health Care Data Industry
On February 19 an article by Julie Creswell "A Digital Shift on Health Data Swells Profits in an Industry" appeared in the New York Times describing a lucrative future for Digital Health Care Data companies in the wake of recent legislation. The Department of Nuerology's Dr. Vivek Reddy is featured.

Sasa Zivkovic Interviewed on KDKA
Sasa Zivkovic was interviewed by Maria simbra on KDKA and broadcast on 12/31 re veterans with ALS.

Awards recognize contributions to early promise, career achievement, and the advancement of women

NEW ORLEANS — The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) announced the winners of major achievement awards during Neuroscience 2012, SfN’s annual meeting and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.

“Achievement awards offer the neuroscience community the opportunity to recognize the promise of early career scientists, the accomplishments of senior researchers, and the important role of mentorship in promoting the professional advancement of women in neuroscience,” said Moses V. Chao, PhD, president of SfN.

Mika Salpeter Lifetime Achievement Award: Michael Zigmond, PhD
Established in 2000, the Mika Salpeter Award recognizes individuals with outstanding career achievements in neuroscience who have also actively promoted the professional advancement of women in neuroscience. The award includes a $5,000 prize.

Michael Zigmond, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Pittsburgh. Zigmond’s research using cellular and animal models of Parkinson’s disease has helped to reveal the intricacies of the relationship between stress, exercise, and trophic factors on the survival of dopamine neurons. He is particularly interested in the strategies dopamine neurons use to reduce their vulnerability to intracellular stress. Zigmond earned his PhD in 1968 from the University of Chicago.

Zigmond is also well known for his “Survival Skills and Ethics” workshops and publications, which offer professional skill development and ethical issue training for early career scientists. Through these workshops and extensive mentoring activities, he has encouraged many female scientists who have gone on to lead distinguished careers in neuroscience.

AAN Grassroots Alliance Spotlight: Pennsylvania member standing up against audiologists
Pittsburgh neurologist Partha Thirumala, MD is learning (and showing) that a few phone calls can go a long way.

A bill in the Pennsylvania State Senate (SB 1352), titled the Speech-Language and Hearing Act, would expand the scope of audiology and allow them to perform Intraoperative Monitoring. When the bill started moving forward Dr. Thirumala took the initiative to contact and educate legislators and legislative staff on this broad skill set as well as the dangers that occur if they are performed insufficiently.

Thankfully the PA legislature came to an end without final passage of this legislation. However this bill will most certainly come up again in 2013. Thanks to Dr. Thirumala’s educational and relationship building efforts neurology is in a good position to get our concerns addressed.

WPXI Story on Telemedicine
Dr. Valerie Suski appeared on WPXI news on October 8, 2012.  She told about the new technology that allows UPMC doctors in the Department of Neurology to deliver healthcare to patients anywhere. Dr. Lawrence Wechsler, Chairman, Department of Neurology, also spoke on the advantage of this new technology.  You can track the story about telemedicine here.

ABEM Congratulates New Diplomat
The American Board of Electrodiagnostic Medicine (ABEM)is pleased to announce that Ahmed M. El-Dokla, MD  has successfully passed the 2012 Certification Examination and is now recognized a board-certified physician in electrodiagnostic medicine, which is the medical subspecialty that applies neurophysiologic techniques to diagnose, evaluate, and treat patients with impairments of the neurologic, neuromuscular, and/or muscular systems.  Dr. El-Dokla finished in the top 10%.

Multiple Sclerosis Research Institute
The Department of Neurology is pleased to announce it is now home to the Pittsburgh Institute for Multiple Sclerosis Care and Research.   The core of the center is located in the newly remodeled Department of Neurology on the 8th floor of the Kaufmann Medical Building.  The center has been recognized by the National MS Society (NMSS) as a comprehensive care center and works closely with the NMSS and many departments at UPMC and Pitt to collaborate in both care and research of multiple sclerosis and related disorders.  The Institute boasts a state-of-the-art infusion center and a staff dedicated to improving the health and function of people with multiple sclerosis.Over 2000 patients currently receive care through this expanding program. The center is involved in multicenter trials of novel agents to control multiple sclerosis and collaborates in research with the UPMC departments of Gastroenterology, Urology, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Children’s Hospital white matter disorders clinic as well as the University of Pittsburgh department of Human Genetics.


WASHINGTON, D.C.; AUGUST 8, 2012 – The Parkinson’s Action Network (PAN) announced today that Laurie Sanders, Ph.D., is the recipient of a Parkinson’s Action Network Postdoctoral Advocacy Prize, supported by Teva Pharmaceuticals The Parkinson’s Action Network (PAN) established this prize as part of an effort to recognize members of the scientific community for their advocacy and community outreach work.

Sanders serves as a leader in PAN’s grassroots advocacy program and reaches out to her Senators and Representative about issues important to the Parkinson’s community.  She has spoken to local Pittsburgh-area support group meetings and regularly does community outreach to help educate the general public about Parkinson’s disease and the need for federal research funding.  Not only does she incorporate her advocacy experiences in the courses she teaches, she also works within the university to encourage other postdoctoral researchers to make advocacy and public outreach an integral component of their work. 

PAN believes Sanders is helping pioneer a whole new level of advocacy and engagement on behalf of the Parkinson’s community.

“This prize is not about rewarding promising research, but rather, commending scientific researchers for the important role they play in the fight for federal funding and policy support for the 500,000 to 1.5 million Americans living with Parkinson’s disease,” said Parkinson’s Action Network CEO Amy Comstock Rick.  “In our advocacy work here in Washington, D.C., we’ve learned that researchers working in the lab and with patients bring a unique perspective and powerful voice to discussions with policymakers.  We hope this prize encourages more researchers like Laurie to participate in advocacy and community outreach efforts because, almost more than anyone else, they understand the critical role of NIH and other federal funding at their universities and institutions,” Rick added.

"PAN brings the scientific community and patients together so that both sides have a better understanding of one another -- and for many researchers, doing advocacy and outreach work is the first time they actually meet people with the disease they're researching," said Kevin Wilson, Director of Public Policy for the American Society for Cell Biology.  "This prize is the most significant single effort I've ever seen in breaking down the silos and encouraging the scientific community to work with patient groups to educate around why research funding is so important," Wilson added.

The Parkinson’s Action Network Postdoctoral Advocacy Prize will be presented at PAN’s annual Morris K. Udall Awards Dinner in Washington, D.C., on October 3, 2012.

About the Parkinson’s Action Network
The Parkinson’s Action Network is the unified voice of the Parkinson’s community advocating for better treatments and a cure.  In partnership with other Parkinson’s organizations and its powerful grassroots network, PAN educates the public and government leaders on better policies for research and an improved quality of life for people living with Parkinson’s.  For more information about PAN, go to
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Media Contact:
Carol Blymire, Director of Communications
202.638.4101 x113 (office)
301.332.8090 (cell)

Zigmond Featured in Neurology Today
Michael Zigmond, PhD, Professor of Neurology, has studied the protective effects that exercise might provide against Parkinson’s disease as well as other means of neuroprotection.  A new article in Neurology Today focuses on animal models of exercise and its possible neuroprotective benefit for patients with PD. The entire article can be accessed here. (6/2012)

Massaro wins Excellence Award
Lori Massaro, CRNP, Clinical Supervisor of the UPMC Stroke Institute, has received the American Heart Association’s Great Rivers Affiliate Award of Excellence, the highest award given within the Great Rivers Affiliate.  It honors an individual for exceptional and outstanding contributions to the advancement of the AHA’s mission of building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke in Delaware, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.  The award, officially called the Lynn Smaha Award of Excellence, was named in honor of a passionate and pioneering physician and AHA volunteer who died in 2006. Lori received her recognition on June 14th (6/2012).

McAlister wins Mientus Award
Jennifer McAlister, Patient Service Coordinator for the Department of Neurology, has been selected as a 2012 winner of the “Robert Mientus Award for Staff Excellence in Service to the UPMC Physician Services Division,” the highest award the PSD grants for service to the Physician Services Division. The award is named for a much respected senior human resources director who died unexpectedly and whose example is the inspiration for the award. Jennifer and two other award recipients will be honored at the Employee Recognition Luncheon on June 13 at the University Club. Her name will also be added to a permanent plaque in the Physician Services Division's corporate offices honoring previous recipients. (4/2012)

Zigmond Interviewed for Washington Post Article
Michael Zigmond, PhD, Professor of Neurology was recently interviewed for an article in the Washington Post about the emerging evidence of the benefits of exercise for people with Parkinson’s disease. Read  the whole article here. (1/2012)

PIND Designated as United Way Agency
The Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases (PIND) has been designated a United Way agency for donations.  The mission of the PIND is to transform cutting-edge science into novel therapies and diagnostics that directly benefit individuals affected by neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, ALS and other movement disorders.  Please consider giving a gift to PIND through the United Way or making a donation in memory of or in honor of someone who has been touched by these terrible diseases.  For your convenience, you can now make your gift online by visiting:  Once registered, you can select Agency #10536316 for donations to go to PIND research. If you prefer, you can write a check to PIND by clicking here for information.  Thank you for your support.

Zigmond to Co-Direct New Pitt Center
Michael Zigmond, PhD, Professor of Neurology, Psychiatry and Behavioral and Community Health Sciences will co-direct the newly formed Center for Health Equity of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health with Dr. Angela Ford of the GSPH. The new undertaking aims to understand and reduce health disparities in underserved populations, particularly those in western Pennsylvania. Read the whole article here. (1/2012)

For past news items, visit our News Archive.

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Alzheimer Disease Research Center

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ALS Research

Geriatric Research Education Center

Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases

UPMC Stroke Institute

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