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Diseases of Study

Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias

Symptoms of cognitive and behavioral impairment (dementia) are perhaps the most devastating of all medical conditions. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease - a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain that results in loss of memory and other intellectual abilities. Nearly one-half of individuals over age 85 have Alzheimer's disease! Since the geriatric population is the fasting growing segment of society, it is expected that 14 million Americans will have Alzheimer's by the middle of the next century unless a cure or prevention is found. Already, Alzheimer's disease costs US society more than $100 billion annually. In addition to Alzheimer's disease, many other neurodegenerative disorders can cause dementia, including Lewy body disease (related to Parkinson's disease), frontotemporal dementia, and strokes.

The causes of these disorders are as yet poorly understood. However, in recent years there has been tremendous research progress, and for the first time, the molecular basis of these conditions is becoming clearer and treatment opportunities are increasing. Emory investigators study various aspects of these conditions, ranging from genetic studies to identify new genes that confer disease susceptibility, to cell biological and pharmacological studies in cell culture and experimental animals, to development of new diagnostic methods, to clinical trials of promising new approaches to help treat symptoms and slow disease progression.


Parkinson's Disease and Other Movement Disorders

Parkinson's disease is a common neurodegenerative disease of aging, producing progressive immobility, tremor, gait problems, and often neuropsychiatric symptoms. The disease affects %7e1.5 million Americans; while most of these are elderly, about 15% of patients are diagnosed before age 50. Other neurodegenerative diseases which have similar clinical or pathological features to Parkinson's disease include progressive supranuclear palsy, Lewy body dementia, Shy-Drager syndrome, essential tremor, dystonia, corticobasal degeneration, and multiple system atrophy.

Emory faculty are world renowned for their major contributions to Parkinson's disease research. The Emory investigators listed below study a variety of aspects of Parkinson's disease, ranging from genetic and environmental causes, to cell biological and pharmacological studies in culture and in animals, to development of new diagnostic methods, to clinical trials of promising new medications and pioneering surgical approaches for medically refractory patients, such as pallidotomy and deep brain stimulation. More than a dozen faculty specialists provide state-of-the-art care for thousands of patients with Parkinson's disease and related conditions annually. The Parkinson's programs have been awarded several Center grants from the National Institutes of Health and private foundations (The Udall Parkinson's Disease Center , The Center for Complementary and Alternative Medications in Neurodegenerative Disease, The American's Parkinson's Disease Association Center of Excellence, and the The Emory Collaborative Center For Parkinson's Disease Environmental Research). 



Huntington's Disease and Related Disorders

Huntington's disease (HD) is an inherited neurodegenerative disorder caused by a single gene mutation. For every parent with HD, each child has a 50% risk of inheriting the gene mutation and getting the disease. There are about 35,000 people with HD in the US and many more at risk. Usually, symptoms start in middle age but can occur in children or late in life. HD is characterized by progressive problems with abnormal movements,  poor coordination, psychiatric problems, and dementia. The involuntary movements are called chorea, from the Greek word for "dance.” Chorea is also seen in some metabolic diseases and other inherited disorders.

Thanks to investigators and patient advocates, this rare disease has had a huge impact on science and medicine. Work on HD founded the field of positional cloning - mapping out disease-causing genes. HD research revealed an entirely new class of diseases with similar genetic mutations. Some of these diseases, such as spinocerebellar ataxias (SCA), have symptoms similar to HD, and are also seen in Emory movement disorders clinics. HD investigators also helped establish genetic testing protocols and are at the forefront of ethical debates about genetic testing for late-onset disorders. As researchers map out complex genetic risks for common disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, this debate will have increasing relevance for many more patients and families.

Emory University is home to the country's first Huntington's Disease Center of Excellence. The Center, with generous grants from the Huntington's Disease Society of America, the Hereditary Disease Foundation, and the NIH, supports basic research, clinical trials, patient support groups, and one of the largest HD practices in the world. 

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Spinal Muscular Atrophy and Other Neuromuscular Disorders

Diseases of the peripheral nerve, muscle, and spinal cord account for a large proportion of patients seeking neurological care. These disorders affect strength, movement, and sensation, causing abnormalities of walking and breathing, as well as numbness and pain. Investigators within the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease are working on basic mechanisms involved in several specific degenerative neuromuscular diseases, including Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig's), Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), muscular dystrophies and peripheral neuropathy. Ongoing research projects involve animal models, primary neuron culture and stem cells, neurogenetics, and development of novel therapeutic strategies. Research on disease mechanisms has already led to ongoing and planned clinical trials in human patients. These research programs are tightly interwoven with clinical programs of the Comprehensive Neuroscience Center, the ALS Clinic, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA), the Emory Chemical Biology Discovery Center, and Emory Healthcare. We acknowledge the research support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the ALS Association, Families of Spinal Muscular Atrophy and other private agencies.


Stroke and Traumatic Brain Injury

Stroke is a debilitating condition that affects about 750,000 Americans each year and a leading cause of disability throughout the world.  It  is estimated that in USA every 3.5 minutes a person has a new stroke and every 4 minutes somebody dies because ischemic stroke or its complications.  The Emory Stroke Center is an interdisciplinary program assembled by vascular neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuroradiologists and nurses prepared to provide state-of-the-art diagnostic and treatment to ischemic stroke patients.  Clinical and basic researchers are an essential part of the Emory Stroke Center, and their work has led to a better understanding of the basic mechanisms leading to stroke and to the development of potential therapeutic strategies to minimize the harmful impact of this disease.