News Release

PHILADELPHIA - Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine will receive $11.9 million over the next five years from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) for the Penn Udall Center for Parkinson’s Disease (PD) research. This grant is a renewal of an NINDS funded PD center that successfully completed its research program  over the last five years.

Parkinson’s is one of the most common neurodegenerative diseases, second only to Alzheimer's disease in the number of people affected. Estimates suggest that approximately 1,000,000 Americans have PD.

Cognitive impairment, executive dysfunction and dementia add to the burden of PD and increase mortality, but the underlying basis of dementia in PD is unclear. There are no effective disease modifying therapies. Despite important research advances, the exact causes of PD, Parkinson’s with dementia (PDD), and dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB) are unknown. To address this, a NINDS Morris K. Udall Parkinson’s Disease Research Center of Excellence was launched at Penn in 2007.

This renewal for years six through ten of the Penn Udall Center builds on recent progress advancing researchers’ understanding of the progression of PDD from normal cognition to cognitive impairment, executive dysfunction and dementia in PDD, and disease progression in DLB, in addition to central nervous system degeneration mediated by progressive accumulations of pathological alpha-synuclein.

Recent Penn Udall Center studies raise the provocative, but highly plausible possibility that the progression of PD/PDD/DLB is linked to the cell-to-cell spread of pathological alpha-synuclein. Therefore, the overarching goals of the Penn Udall Center are to explore mechanisms of disease progression and alpha-synuclein transmission through collaborations between basic and translational research projects that work with each of the cores to implement the mission of the Penn Udall Center in the renewal period.

"The Penn Udall Center will elucidate mechanisms of cognitive impairment, executive dysfunction and dementia in Parkinson’s Disease as well as mechanisms of neurodegeneration that are mediated by the transmission of alpha-synuclein pathologies,” said Center Director John Trojanowski, MD, PhD, director of Penn's Institute on Aging and professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine. “By using new approaches and model systems to achieve its goals, the Penn Udall Center will investigate novel disease mechanisms in Parkinson’s and advance efforts to develop new interventions and better diagnostics for this disorder.”

The Penn Udall Center is based on 20 years of basic research on neurodegenerative diseases within the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research and clinical programs at the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center, both within Penn Medicine.

The Udall Centers of Excellence were developed in honor of former Congressman Morris K. Udall, who died in 1998 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. The first center was named in 1997.

The Udall Center renewal grant (P50 NS053488) will include four core groups focusing on clinical care: neuropathology, biomarker and genetics; data management, biostatistics and bioinformatics; and administration. Planned projects will look for an immune therapy to block PD transmission in animal models, biomarkers to evaluate and predict cognitive decline in Lewy Body spectrum disorders, language and executive dysfunction in PD, and how transmission of alpha-synuclein occurs in neurons. The Penn Udall Center team includes John Trojanowski, MD, PhD, Howard Hurtig, MD, Dan Weintraub, MD,  Vivianna Van Deerlin, MD, PhD, Edward B. Lee, MD, PhD, Sharon Xie, PhD, Li-San Wang, PhD, Alice Chen-Plotkin, MD, Murray Grossman, MD, PhD, Rachel Gross, MD, Kelvin Luk, PhD, and Virginia M-Y Lee, PhD, MBA.

Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $5.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 18 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $373 million awarded in the 2015 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center -- which are recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report -- Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2015, Penn Medicine provided $253.3 million to benefit our community.

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