Deep in the brains of the million Americans with Parkinson’s disease, changes to their brain cells put them at high risk of dangerous falls—a problem that resists even the most modern treatments.
Now, University of Michigan scientists and doctors have launched a five-year, $11.5 million effort to better understand the cause of these problems, and find new options based in the latest brain science.
With the new grant from the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health, U-M becomes home to one of only nine Morris K. Udall Centers of Excellence in Parkinson’s Disease Research in the country. Named for a noted member of Congress who battled the disease, the Udall Centers bring together researchers from many fields to tackle big questions in Parkinson’s, to educate the next generation of Parkinson’s researchers, and to serve as a vital resource for patients with the disease.
The U-M investigators will focus on a brain chemical system that is rapidly emerging as a key player in the disease’s effect on walking and balance—in large part due to advances made at U-M. Called the cholinergic system, it helps us focus our attention on tasks such as walking, and may be the next key target for Parkinson’s treatments.
The U-M Udall Center team includes researchers in many units of the university. They include Medical School doctors who treat Parkinson’s patients at the U-M Health System and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, and study the disease in their labs, as well as a neuroscientist in the College of Literature, Science & the Arts, and biostatisticians from the schools of Nursing and Public Health. SPH’s Dr. Cathie Spino, a research associate professor of biostatistics, will help design and analyze the results of the center’s experiments using advanced digital tools to parse the massive amounts of data the work will produce.
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