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NIH Institute Grants Emory University $6.6 Million To Support Udall Parkinson's Disease Research Center

September 30, 2010

Five-year NINDS grant will facilitate collaboration among Emory and Vanderbilt researchers who will focus on developing more effective Parkinson's Disease treatments with fewer side effects

Media Contacts

Lisa Newbern, 404-727-7709, lisa.newbern@emory.edu; Emily Rios, 404-727-7732, erios@emory.edu; Bill Snyder, 615-322-4747, william.snyder@vanderbilt.edu; Gregory Roa, 301-496-5751, groa@ninds.nih.gov

Emory University will receive more than $1 million each year for the next five years to support a Morris K. Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson’s Disease Research. With a goal of developing more effective Parkinson’s disease (PD) treatments that have fewer side effects, the Emory Udall Center will integrate cutting-edge collaborative research, expert training of researchers and clinicians, and open dialogue with the general public.

Story Landis, PhD, director of the National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the funding source for the new Emory Udall Center, as well as a center at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, made the announcement today at the World Parkinson Congress in Glasgow, Scotland. Dr. Landis said, “For more than a decade, the Udall Centers of Excellence have represented our commitment to bring together the talent and effort of the foremost investigators advancing research in Parkinson’s disease. I look forward to these new centers partnering with us to accelerate basic, translational and clinical research to find a cure for this devastating illness.”

PD, a complex neurodegenerative disorder, affects more than 1 million people in the United States and is the second-most prevalent neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s disease. PD is characterized by gradually progressive motor symptoms, such as tremor, slowness of movement, rigidity, impaired balance and autonomic problems, as well as other issues, such as cognitive decline.

Thomas Wichmann, MD, professor of Neurology at Emory and a researcher at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, is the principal investigator of the new Emory center that will focus on accelerating progress by deepening researchers’ understanding of the pathophysiology of the disease. Currently, more than 45 basic science and clinical faculty members at Emory study PD. Their expertise ranges from anatomy and electrophysiology to pharmacology and toxicology. The NINDS grant will facilitate closer interactions among these researchers as well as colleagues at Vanderbilt University. In addition, the Emory Udall Center will be part of the larger network of NINDS-funded Udall Parkinson’s Disease Research Centers, which will make possible additional PD research collaborations.

“The Emory Udall Center is designed with Parkinson’s disease patients in mind so we can broaden and optimize treatment options,” said Dr. Wichmann. “Working together within Emory and with colleagues across the country, we’re certain we can accelerate progress,” he continued.

The Emory Udall Center will focus on four main projects and two cores:

  • Projects 1 and 2, led by Emory researchers Dieter Jaeger, PhD, and Dr. Wichmann, respectively, will investigate the role of abnormal thalamic activity in parkinsonism;
  • Project 3, led by Emory researcher Gary Miller, PhD, will examine the efficacy and pharmacokinetic properties of a new group of orally active agonists at growth factor receptors (TrkB receptors). These agents were recently developed at Emory and promise to slow the degenerative process in Parkinson’s disease and to have symptomatic benefits;
  • Project 4, led by Vanderbilt researcher P. Jeffrey Conn, PhD, will examine the involvement of cholinergic dysfunction in PD and the potential antiparkinsonian efficacy of novel and highly specific agents acting at cholinergic receptors; and
  • Core A focuses on administration, outreach and education, while Core B provides essential anatomy, electron microscopy and drug testing services to the four projects.

The Emory Udall Center will be a resource of PD-related information for scientists at Emory and other area institutions by organizing research seminars and meetings, providing hands-on lab training, maintaining a Web site and facilitating other activities as appropriate.

In addition, the Emory Udall Center will serve as a resource on PD for the general public with the goal of educating the public and patients with the disease about PD research. Center staff will coordinate public outreach via a Community Outreach Board that includes patients with PD, their caregivers and others, and will coordinate activities with the Atlanta chapter of the American Parkinson’s Disease Association, which is coordinated through Emory’s Movement Disorders program as well as the Atlanta Clinical and Translational Science Institute (ACTSI).

The Yerkes National Primate Research Center, the Movement Disorders program and the ACTSI, as well as Emory College and Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, are providing additional funding for the Emory Udall Center to support a visiting speaker series, travel for trainees and a pilot research program.

The NINDS Parkinson's Disease Research Centers of Excellence program (www.ninds.nih.gov/research/parkinsonsweb/udall_centers/) was developed in honor of former Congressman Morris K. Udall, who died in 1998 after a long battle with Parkinson's Disease. The NINDS (www.ninds.nih.gov) is the nation’s leading funder of research on the brain and nervous system. The NINDS mission is to reduce the burden of neurological disease – a burden borne by every age group, by every segment of society, by people all over the world.


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service. Its components include the Emory University School of Medicine, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, and Rollins School of Public Health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University; and Emory Healthcare, the largest, most comprehensive health system in Georgia. Emory Healthcare includes: The Emory Clinic, Emory-Children's Center, Emory University Hospital, Emory University Hospital Midtown, Wesley Woods Center, and Emory University Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center has a $2.5 billion budget, 17,600 employees, 2,500 full-time and 1,500 affiliated faculty, 4,700 students and trainees, and a $5.7 billion economic impact on metro Atlanta.

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