The Morris K. Udall Parkinson's Disease Center of Excellence for Parkinson's Disease Research at Emory University is a collaborative research program in which electrophysiologists and anatomists study the pathophysiology of parkinsonism, and examine and optimize the effects of existing treatments for Parkinson's disease. The Center draws upon the proven ability of the basal ganglia research community at Emory to conduct translational research. Other Udall Center assets are its close ties to the clinical movement disorders group at Emory, and the availability of primates for research at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University. Emory is strongly committed to the Udall Center's research, and supports the Center by funding pilot grants, invited speakers, and portions of its education and outreach programs. The Center consists of three tightly linked projects and two cores. The planned research will shed light on the poorly understood parkinsonism-related activity changes in thalamus and cortex which, in turn, will help us to better understand the pathophysiology of parkinsonism, and to optimize existing neuromodulation strategies and to develop new ones. Project 1 (led by Dr. Jaeger) will utilize brain slice and in vivo recordings in rodents, as well as a neural computational approach to develop mechanistic models of thalamocortical dysfunction in parkinsonism. Project 2 (Dr. Wichmann), will continue the exploration of thalamic and cortical abnormalities in parkinsonian monkeys, using selective activation and inactivation approaches which are designed to study corticothalamic, pallidothalamic and thalamocortical information transfer. Project 3 (Dr. Smith) will examine morphological changes in the thalamic and cortical microcircuitry in parkinsonian primates, a topic that is virtually unexplored at this time and of high relevance to the interpretation of data in the other projects. All projects will be supported by an Administrative Core (Dr. Wichmann, PI; Dr. DeLong, Co-I, Dr. Smith, Co-I, Ms Holbrook, administrator), and by an Anatomy and Behavior Core (Dr. Galvan) which will provide immunohistochemistry and electron microscopy services to all of the center projects, and standardized MPTP treatment and quantification of parkinsonism to the primate experiments in Projects 2 and 3. In addition to pursuing its research mission (Aim 1), the Center will help junior scientists to develop their career in Parkinson's disease research (Aim 2), and will engage in extensive outreach efforts, aimed at communicating the Center's (and Udall Center network) research findings to the public (Aim 3), reaching all age groups and background levels, ranging from K-12 children to retirees in assisted living facilities. As part of the outreach agenda, the center plans to organize annual symposia for patients and their caregivers. The center will be generously supported by the University. These internal support funds will help the Center to fund some of its education and outreach missions, as well as its pilot grant program, designed to expand Parkinson's disease research at Emory University.
There continues to be an urgent need for antiparkinsonian treatments that are more effective and have fewer side effects than those currently available. To address this need, the research of the proposed Center will focus on generating a more detailed understanding of the pathophysiology of Parkinson's disease, especially the poorly understood abnormalities in thalamocortical interactions in the parkinsonian state, and on using this knowledge to develop or optimize neuromodulation approaches to Parkinson's disease. Apart from conducting highly collaborative and innovative research on Parkinson's disease, the Center will also train junior investigators, and educate the public about Parkinson's disease research.
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