It is estimated that approximately one in four Americans will suffer from a neurodegenerative disease, and virtually all Americans will have a family member with one of these conditions. Unfortunately, the underlying mechanisms of neurodegeneration—and how they lead to disease—are not well understood. The complexity of these diseases makes it impossible for any single scientist to find the cause or cure. Instead, it will require an integrated, collaborative, interdisciplinary approach—involving interactive groups of scientists and clinicians—to make headway towards cures. This was the vision of Drs. Michael Zigmond and Robert Moore when they approached the Scaife Foundations with their idea to create the Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases (PIND).
Ultimately established with generous gifts from the Scaife Family Foundation and the DSF Charitable Foundation, the PIND brings together in one place scientists and clinician scientists from diverse disciplines and perspectives—and several School of Medicine departments (Neurology, Pharmacology, Geriatric Medicine & Structural Biology)—to collaborate on studies of neurodegenerative disorders. By virtue of both philosophy and architecture, the PIND is a center where there are no walls between individual scientists, and where there are no barriers between basic scientific inquiry and translation of the latest findings into new treatments. As such, 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 disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, Huntington’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). The PIND’s research portfolio includes investigations into mechanisms of neural cell death; new genetic models of neurodegenerative disease; and methods for protecting the nervous system with drugs, physical interventions and gene therapy.
Currently, there are 12 independent laboratory groups within PIND laboratory space. Of these, half of the principal investigators are physician-scientists. The mission of the PIND is bolstered by and integrated with clinical programs in the Department of Neurology, including the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, the Comprehensive Movement Disorders Clinic, the UPMC Stroke Institute, and the Muscular Dystrophy Association ALS Center. The Department of Neurology is active in clinical research in neurodegenerative diseases, coordinating or participating in therapeutic trials in Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and ALS, and it is a site for trials for both the Parkinson Study Group and the Huntington Study Group. We have been designated by the American Parkinson Disease Association as an Advanced Center for Parkinson Disease Research.
In addition to supporting research activities, the PIND is the headquarters of Support Programs in Neurodegenerative Disorders and Stroke (SPINS). Composed of PIND researchers and regional leaders of the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Parkinson Disease Association, the National Parkinson Foundation, the ALS Association, the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, and the American Stroke Association, SPINS members meet at a yearly conference to focus on issues common to those affected by neurodegenerative diseases, such as depression, physical access and therapy, caregiver stress, and feeding and swallowing problems. Together, the PIND, SPINS and the Department of Neurology clinical programs are making sure and steady progress in addressing the multiple challenges, which neurodegenerative diseases present.
The PIND is directed by J. Timothy Greenamyre, M.D., Ph.D., who is Professor and Vice-Chair of Neurology, UPMC Endowed Chair & Chief of the Movement Disorders Division and Director of the APDA Advanced Center for Parkinson’s Disease Research.