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Research Activities

The Department of Neurology has a sustained commitment to excellence in the three major components of academic medicine: teaching, clinical care and research that advances medical knowledge and therapy. Research funding for the clinical, basic, and translational studies in the department has increased steadily over the past few years and in FY2011 the department received $7,408,324 in NIH grant support.

Basic Research
Basic scientists in the Department of Neurology continue to be successful in securing extramural funding. Several new extramural basic science grants were awarded to neurology faculty from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011.   In addition, Neurology faculty received notice that several other awards will be funded in the coming fiscal year. 

Basic neuro-science investigators in the Department of Neurology had a number of successes during the past academic year. Some of the major achievements include:

  • J. Timothy Greenamyre continued as overall Director of the NINDS Program Project Grant entitled “Mitochondrial Proteins in Parkinson’s Disease” and leads a project focusing on mechanisms of iron accumulation in PD.  Theresa Hastings and Jun Chen also lead projects in this grant and Guodong Cao is the Director of the Molecular Core.  In addition, Dr. Greenamyre made progress on his RC1 NIEHS grant examining gene-environment interactions in transgenic rat models of Parkinson’s disease. Work continued on two grants funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation: one examining neuroprotection by PXDNL, a novel heme-containing peroxidase, and the second exploring pathological characteristics of alpha-synuclein transgenic rats.  He also completed a grant from the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation examining gastrointestinal dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease. 
  • Steven Graham continued work on his renewed NINDS R01 grant focusing on cyclooxygenase 2 and ischemic neuronal injury and his project in the NINDS Program Project Grant entitled “Molecular Mechanisms in Traumatic Brain Injury:  Bench to Bedside.”  Work progressed on the R21 grant focused on the role of COX2-derived cyclopentenone prostaglandins in the exacerbation of hypoxic ischemic brain injury by inhibiting protein disulfide isomerase and worsening endoplasmic reticulum stress.
  • Jun Chen received a new NINDS R01 grant focused on neuroprotection against Parkinsonian cell death. He completed the Department of Defense grant to study scaffold/neural stem cells-based tissue engineering in a traumatic brain injury model. In addition, he worked on NINDS grants exploring the neuroprotective effects of HSP27 in cerebral ischemia and inducible DNA repair in cerebral ischemia. He also continued work on his VA Merit Review award focusing on HSPs and neuroprotection in cerebral ischemia.
  • Guodong Cao was funded by Veteran Affair Healthcare to study the neurogenesis and oligodendrogenesis effect of a novel mutant erythropoietin in ischemic brain. In addition, he continued to work on his R21 grant examining the therapeutic effects of a novel erythropoietin (EPO) mutant molecule against ischemic brain injury.  He also worked on his project funded by the American Heart Association to test the neuroprotective effect of HSP-27 fused to protein transduction domain against ischemic brain injury.
  • Ed Burton continued to work on a Department of Veterans Affairs Merit Review grant examining alpha-synuclein RNAi in a model of sporadic Parkinson’s disease.  He also continued to work on his grant from the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation on the analysis of the dopamine system in the zebrafish dystonia model, and completed his NINDS R21 examining the zebrafish model of multiple system atrophy.
  • David Hinkle continued work on his K08 Mentored Clinical Scientist Development Award to study the potential role of DJ-1, an astrocyte-expressed gene that is implicated in Parkinson’s disease.  He also continued work on his American Parkinson Disease Association grant assessing the potential role of anti-oxidant systems in the mechanism of DJ-1 dependent astrocyte-mediated neuroprotection in an in vitro neuron-astrocyte co-culture model system. 
  • Amanda Smith continued work on a VA grant to examine the impact of lifestyle modification, such as exercise and dietary on the aged parkinsonian rodent nigrostriatal pathway. In addition, she continued to explore endogenous neuroprotective agents in Parkinson’s disease.
  • Ruth Perez continued work on her NINDS funded R01 grant examining alpha-synuclein and dopamine implications for Parkinsonism.  She also completed work on an award from the Ethel Vincent Charitable Trust to explore alpha-synuclein as a biomarker for multiple sclerosis.
  • Sarah Berman continued to work on her NINDS-funded K08 Mentored Clinical Scientist Development Award focused on mitochondrial dynamics in neurodegeneration. 
  • Milos Ikonomovic received a grant from the Pittsburgh Foundation to explore novel amyloid-targeting therapies for preserving cognitive function in Alzheimer's disease. He continued to work on his project in the Program Project Grant from the NINDS entitled “Molecular Mechanisms in Traumatic Brain Injury:  Bench to Bedside” and his project in the NIA Program Project Grant, “In Vivo PiB PET Amyloid Imaging in Normals, MCI and Dementia.”  In addition, he continued work on funding from GE Healthcare to conduct histopathological validation of in vivo amyloid imaging with PiB and characterization of flutemetamol binding in Alzheimer's disease.
  • Paula Clemens continued work on her VA Administration Merit Review award “Molecular Treatment of Muscle Atrophy.”  She is the Medical Director for the Cooperative International Neuromuscular Research Group (CINRG), a multi-center academic trials group devoted to the study of therapeutic agents for patients with muscular dystrophy. She chaired 2 multi-center CINRG human clinical studies this year. In addition she was site PI in a Department of Defense trial of Coenzyme Q10 and prednisone in Duchenne dystrophy.
  • Feng Zhang continued work on his Scientist Development Award from the American Heart Association. This award supports highly promising beginning scientists as they move toward competition as independent investigators and will provide research funding for Dr. Zhang for four years.

Clinical Research
Clinical research in the Department of Neurology has also expanded in the last several years and significant numbers of patients with neurologic diseases are enrolled in ongoing clinical trials.  This is an invaluable resource for continued development of research in the department, and also attracts patients to our medical center.

  • Lawrence Wechsler, Max Hammer and Tudor Jovin from the UPMC Stroke Institute continued their participation in federal and industry sponsored clinical trials.
  • Oscar Lopez is the Director of the NIA-funded Alzheimer Disease Research Center (ADRC) and leads a project examining amyloid deposition, vascular disease and clinical progress of AD.  He also leads a project in the PiB PET amyloid imaging Program Project Grant, ‘In Vivo PiB PET Amyloid Imaging in Normals, MCI and Dementia.”  In addition, he continued work on his NIA R01 grant, “Predictors of Alzheimer’s Disease in Mild cognitive Impairment.”  
  • The ADRC continued to be a part of the NIA-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative; ADNI –GO, ADNI-2, the NIA Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study, a multi-center program conducting clinical research on medications for Alzheimer’s disease including the RAGE study; and the NIA-funded National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center.
  • Judith Saxton received NIA ARRA funding to continue work on her NIA-funded R01 grant which investigates the utility of cognitive testing in the primary care setting by using computer tests to identify older patients with mild cognitive impairment. In addition, she continued as Clinical Core leader for the Alzheimer Disease Research Center and the PiB PET Amyloid Imaging Program Project grant.
  • Beth Snitz received an NIA funded Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (K-23), entitled “Subjective cognitive complaints, longitudinal cognitive decline, and beta-amyloid deposition in non-demented older adults.” She also was awarded a pilot study through the NIA-funded ADRC.
  • Eric McDade received funding to serve as site PI for the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (DIAN), an international, NIA-funded, multi-site study of autosomal dominant Alzheimer Dementia.

Training Grants

Michael Zigmond continued directing an NIMH T32 training grant focused on training in the neurobiology of psychiatry disorders and an NINDS T32 training grant to provide training in the neurobiology of neurodegenerative diseases.  In addition, Dr. Zigmond continues to direct an NINDS U13 grant to conduct survival skills and ethics workshops for neuroscientists.

University of Pittsburgh Clinical Research Office