Gelbard Named Director of Center for Neural Development and Disease

September 18, 2008

Harris A. Gelbard, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurology, pediatrics and of microbiology and immunology, has been named director of the Center for Neural Development and Disease at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The center, which brings together a broad array of physicians and scientists, targets a complex system rather than a single disease. Center researchers investigate stroke, traumatic brain injury, brain tumors, nerve injuries, HIV-1 associated neurologic disorders, Alzheimer’s and other diseases with the goal of creating treatments and therapies.

“We think it is most crucial to understand the development of the nervous system — how it is put together — so we can better understand how diseases of the brain and peripheral nervous system take away function,” said Gelbard. “This kind of understanding is what translates into treatments and better care.”

Neuromedicine is one of the signature programs of the Medical Center’s 2007-2012 strategic plan. Diseases of the brain and nervous system take many lives, cause great pain and suffering and cost billions of dollars annually. The strategic plan aims to build on the Medical Center’s already strong position as a world leader in the prevention and treatment of these diseases. The work of the Center for Neural Development and Disease is directly linked to this goal. In the future, Gelbard expects the center to increase its focus on genetics and regenerative medicine. Three new investigators could be added in the next two years to the center.

Gelbard, who came to the Medical Center as a postdoctoral fellow in 1989 and joined the faculty as an assistant professor in the Department of Neurology in 1990, is an internationally recognized expert in HIV-related dementia. In 2006, the National Institute of Mental Health awarded $7 million to Gelbard as principal investigator to develop drugs to treat brain and neural damaged related to HIV and AIDS. Gelbard and his colleagues recently have developed a chemical structure for a new drug that could protect the brain from HIV-related nerve damage. They are beginning clinical trials with a drug that targets the same enzyme complex in the brain as proof-of-concept for their new drug under development.

The Center for Neural Development and Disease is located in the space formerly occupied by the Center for Aging and Developmental Biology and in space contiguous with the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology.

“We collaborate well with each other and we have a true intellectual camaraderie,” Gelbard said.

Members of the Center for Neural Development and Disease include:

Jeff Bazarian, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of emergency medicine and of neurology, and Brian Blyth, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine, who investigate biomarkers for traumatic brain injuries;

William J. Bowers, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology and of microbiology and immunology, who studies the inflammatory mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases and creates vaccines for diseases such as Alzheimer’s;

Paul D. Coleman, Ph.D., professor emeritus of neurology and of anatomy, continues his extensive research on the development and early signs of Alzheimer’s;

Marc W. Halterman, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology and of pediatrics, investigates transcription factors expressed during hypoxia that could be targets for therapeutic drugs for people with strokes;

Jason Huang, M.D., assistant professor of neurological surgery and a practicing neurosurgeon, focuses on traumatic brain injury and the growth and uses of nerve grafts;

Karl A. Kasischke, M.D., assistant professor of neurology and director of the multiphoton imaging core, who investigates the role of the enzyme of NAD(P)H in energy metabolism in the brain during hypoxia and in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS;

David Pearce, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics and of neurology, studies the molecular basis of Batten disease and other pediatric neurodegenerative diseases and researches treatments for the diseases;

Douglas Portman, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical genetics, focuses on the genetic networks that act during neuronal development, including control of sexual differences;

David Rempe, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology, studies the molecular mechanisms in the brain that affect tissue viability in hypoxia and stroke;

Nina Schor, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Pediatrics and professor of neurology, designs and tests targeted therapies for neuroblastoma, the most common tumor of childhood.

Anne Dickinson is the administrator of the center.


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