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The Science

The Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson’s Disease Research brings together researchers with complementary expertise in systems-oriented Parkinson’s disease research at Emory University.  The center consists of three main projects, headed by Dr. Dieter Jaeger (project 1), Dr. Thomas Wichmann (project 2), Dr. Yoland Smith (project 3).  All projects are supported by a neuroanatomy and behavior core (lead by Dr. Adriana Galvan), and by an administrative core, led by Dr. Wichmann (center PI) and Dr. Mahlon DeLong (center Co-I).  Ms Christina Holbrook serves as the center’s administrator.

Our research studies the pathophysiology and possible treatments of Parkinson’s disease from a systems perspective.  Most of the current pharmacological and surgical treatments address the effects of the well-established striatal dopamine deficiency in Parkinson’s disease, for instance by replacing the lost dopamine, or by lesioning or electrically stimulating specific basal ganglia nuclei. However, the use of many of these therapies remains empiric, and clinical and laboratory observations frequently do not match the conventional models of basal ganglia circuit abnormalities in the parkinsonian state and the effects of antiparkinsonian interventions.

Starting with the observation that knowledge of the effects of antiparkinsonian therapies downstream from the basal ganglia may provide important clues that may help us to better understand and optimize the effects of antiparkinsonian interventions, projects 1 and 2 focus on assessing the effects of basal ganglia interventions such as lesioning, deep brain stimulation, or drug treatments, on the thalamus, using rodent and nonhuman primate models of the disease.  Projects 3 and 4 are aimed at developing new non-dopaminergic antiparkinsonian drugs and examine the effects of these drugs on the circuitry and cellular functions in the basal ganglia- thalamocortical system. Details of the progress of individual projects can be found in the tabs on the left side of this screen.

The center makes every effort to create an environment that encourages collaboration and synergy.  We strongly believe that the sharing of ideas and resources leads to increased efficiency and productivity in Parkinson’s disease research.  A part of this effort is our annual pilot grant program for innovative research in Parkinson’s disease research at Emory University.  In addition to the research agenda stated above, an additional key function of the center is therefore to educate researchers and the larger public about Parkinson’s disease research, through organizing lab or clinic rotations for scientific personnel, seminars for interested researchers, as well as outreach activities for more general audiences.