The Udall Center of Excellence, housed at the U of M Medical School, joins a short list of five sites nationwide charged with reducing the burden of Parkinson’s disease

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (10/25/2021) — The Udall Center at the University of Minnesota Medical School was awarded a new $11.3 million grant from the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke to continue its work in deep brain stimulation (DBS) for Parkinson’s disease. The Morris K. Udall Centers of Excellence for Parkinson’s Disease Research were established by Congress in 1998 as part of a program to honor the late representative from Arizona. Now receiving this grant for the second time, this Udall Center joins a short list of five other national sites funded to study Parkinson’s disease from the molecular level all the way into patient treatments.

“Since the last Udall Center grant in 2016, our interdisciplinary team has made great progress in identifying some of the mechanisms that underlie Parkinson’s disease,” said Jerrold Vitek, MD, PhD, director of the U of M Medical School’s Udall Center and neurologist with M Health Fairview. “But, the clock is still ticking. Over one million people in the U.S. are living with the disease, and in Minnesota, we have a high incidence rate. That number will only continue to grow as time passes.”

Vitek leads an interdisciplinary team of U of M scientists and physicians who are studying how brain circuits in people living with Parkinson’s disease differ from healthy individuals and how to improve DBS therapies for those with the disease. Since 2016, the team has published several studies, including one in Neurobiology of Disease that identified biomarkers in the brain associated with Parkinson’s disease. 

“Despite this new evidence, there’s still much more to know about this disease,” Vitek said. “We know that there are biomarkers for the disease that may lead to a better understanding of the brain circuits involved and improved treatments using DBS. There are also symptoms of Parkinson’s disease that are resistant to DBS, like gait and balance or freezing of gait. Part of this new grant is focusing on those symptoms that are not responsive to current medication or stimulation and finding a way where DBS will treat them.”

This new grant supports three research projects that hope to improve upon DBS techniques and other therapies that are tailored to each patient:

  • Project 1 will study the underlying changes in brain circuitry that affects patients with Parkinson’s disease by using cutting-edging brain imaging developed at the U of M and intraoperative techniques pioneered by Dr. Vitek.

  • Project 2 will develop new stimulation approaches in a region of the brain called the pallidum that is important for controlling voluntary movement.

  • Project 3 will also explore the effects of novel stimulation approaches on brain circuitry that mediates problems associated with Parkinson’s disease.

“Dr. Vitek's research team explores innovative ways to understand and treat Parkinson's disease. Experts from across the University ― biomedical engineers, radiologists, neurologists, neuropsychologists and others ― focus together on this extremely complex and debilitating brain disorder,” said Jakub Tolar, MD, PhD, dean of the Medical School. “Patients depend on this research, and the National Institutes of Health have recognized and continue to support the outstanding results of Dr. Vitek's uniquely diverse team.” 

The U of M Medical School’s Udall Center is one of five centers across the country, joining Emory University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Michigan and the University of Rochester. It boasts an interdisciplinary team of faculty from across the U of M in the Center for Magnetic Resonance ResearchDepartment of Neurology, Department of NeuroscienceDepartment of Neurosurgery, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Department of Radiology and the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine in the Medical School; the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the College of the Science and Engineering; and the Division of Biostatistics in the School of Public Health.


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