CNDR’s 2016 Marian S. Ware Research Retreat: “Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease Drug Discovery”

On Tuesday, October 11, 2016, Penn’s Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (CNDR) hosted its annual Marian S. Ware Research Retreat. This year, the theme of the event was “Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease Drug Discovery” and was organized by Kurt Brunden, PhD, Director of Drug Discovery and Research Professor at CNDR.

Presenters included David M. Holtzman, MD of Washington University School of Medicine and Laura Volpicelli-Daley, PhD of University of Alabama, Birmingham, as well as industry representatives, Richard Ransohoff, MD of Biogen, Inc., and Mark Forman, MD, PhD of Merck & Co., Inc., in addition to several postdoctoral researchers from Penn.

Throughout the day, guests were invited to browse the nearly 50 neurodegenerative disease research related posters on display for the annual poster session. The event concluded with awards given to the top three posters of the day.

First Place

Title: “alpha-Tubulin Tyrosination and CLIP- 170 Phosphorylation Regulate the Initiation of Dynein-Driven Transport in Neurons
Presenter: Jeffrey Nirschl
Authors: Jeffrey J. Nirschl, Maria M. Magiera, Jacob E. Lazarus, Carsten Janke, Erika L. F. Holzbaur

Second Place:
Title: “Monitoring Conformational Changes in alpha-Synuclein During Aggregation and Small Molecule Treatment”
Presenter: Conor Haney
Authors: Conor M. Haney, John J. Ferrie, Tiberiu Mihaila, Marcello Chang, Jimin Yoon, E. James Petersson

Third Place:
Title: “Distinct Pathological a-Synuclein Strains in Glial Cytoplasmic Inclusions and Lewy Bodies”
Presenter: Chao Peng
Authors: Chao X. Peng, Ronald Gathagan, Dustin J. Covell, Anna Stieber, Coraima Medellin, John L. Robinson, Bin Zhang, Kelvin C. Luk, John Q. Trojanowski, Virginia M.-Y. Lee


Presentations* (click to download):

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-2-05-38-pm screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-2-06-14-pm

*Please note: Not all presentations can be shared online due to unpublished data.

Senator Collins, Chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Aging Committee, visits Penn’s Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research

On Tuesday, October 11, 2016, Senator Susan Collins, the United States Senator for Maine and the Chair of the Senate Aging Committee, stopped by the University of Pennsylvania to visit the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (CNDR).

During her private tour of the CNDR lab, led by CNDR Director, Virginia M.-Y. Lee, PhD, MBA, and Co-director, John Q. Trojanowski, MD, PhD, Sen. Collins was given the opportunity to examine frozen brain slices to compare the physical differences between a normal brain and an Alzheimer’s brain – the Alzheimer’s brain being significantly smaller in size. Drs. Lee and Trojanowski also showed Sen. Collins brain scans and images under the microscope to show the appearance of plaques, tangles, and Lewy bodies, all of which are key evidence of neurodegenerative disease.

Following the tour, Sen. Collins sat down to talk with Drs. Lee and Trojanowski, Perry Clark, Institute on Aging External Advisory Board Chair and avid Alzheimer’s advocate, and his wife Elaine, and Kathy Jedrziewski, PhD, Deputy Director of the Institute on Aging. Senator Collins, who also serves as Co-Chair of the Congressional Alzheimer’s Task Force, had several questions about the research taking place not only here at Penn, but throughout the field of aging-related neurodegeneration in general. They discussed topics ranging from genetics to potential therapies to the growing need for additional funding.

“As the founder and Co-chair of the Senate Alzheimer’ssencollins-quote Task Force, working to increase federal funding to fight Alzheimer’s has long been one of my top priorities. Approximately 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease today, and that number is soaring as our overall population grows older and lives longer,” explained Senator Collins.

“In addition to the human toll, Alzheimer’s costs the U.S. an estimated $236 billion a year, including $160 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid. With adequate funding to support the exciting research underway, we can achieve a world where Alzheimer’s can be treated effectively, cured, or prevented.”

Sen. Collins was especially intrigued with the level of collaboration in which Penn partakes with other research centers across the country. She thanked the group not only for their work in research, but also for their advocacy, saying it makes her very hopeful and excited for future advances in the field. “This is one of the most extensive and impressive briefings I’ve had,” she said.

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Friends of the National Institute on Aging (NIA)’s Annual Update on NIA Scientific Advances

Earlier this month, the Friends of the National Institute on Aging (FoNIA) participated in their annual NIA Scientific Advances Update to discuss the progress of ongoing and upcoming research projects in the field of aging. Topics include the basic biology of aging, neuroscience, behavioral and social research, and geriatrics and clinical gerontology. Richard J. Hodes, MD, Director of NIA, presented this year’s updates (slides provided below) and joined in the open discussion with FoNIA members and leadership from each NIA division. NIA Deputy Director, Marie A. Bernard, MD, was also in attendance.

“These meetings are a really great opportunity for us to hear about the latest advances in
aging research across the board and to discuss future initiatives with NIA leadership,”
explained Kathy Jedrziewski, PhD, Chair of FoNIA and Deputy Director of Penn’s
Institute on Aging.


The group will meet again early next year to discuss the NIA budget. In addition, FoNIA meets annually with National Institutes of Health Director, Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, as well as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They also host an annual educational briefing on the Hill.


Richard Hodes, MD, Director of NIA (left), Francis Collins, MD, PhS, Director of NIH (center), and Marie A. Bernard, MD, Deputy Director of NIA (right), with members of FoNIA at their last meeting.

For more information, visit:

FoNIA is a broad-based coalition of aging, disease, research, and patient groups that supports the mission of the NIA. FoNIA activities include advocating on behalf of the NIA and increasing public awareness about NIA’s work and its tremendous impact in the field of aging research. 


Penn Medicine Celebrates a Milestone with its 5th Annual 5K for the IOA and the Memory Mile Walk

On Sunday, September 25, 2016, Penn Medicine celebrated the 5th anniversary of its annual 5K for the IOA and Memory Mile Walk!

Nearly 500 runners, walkers, and spectators turned up bright and early for the 3.1-mile race through Penn Park and 1-mile walk across the University of Pennsylvania’s campus. The event continues to provide fun for the whole family, even your four-legged friends, and brings together hundreds of people for one universal cause — to support Alzheimer’s and aging-related research at Penn’s Institute on Aging (IOA).


P.J. Brennan, MD, with his sister, Sheila Connor, at this year’s event.

The 5K for the IOA and the Memory Mile Walk was started in 2012 by the University of Pennsylvania Health System’s Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President and IOA External Advisory Board member, P.J. Brennan, MD. After losing his father to Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Brennan wanted to create a way to get involved in the efforts of finding a cure for this devastating disease. “I wanted to provide support for investigators to test novel ideas that could someday lead to groundbreaking therapies,” he said.

This year, the event raised an impressive $34,245 for the cause and had one of its largest turnouts yet.

As the numbers continue to grow over the years, so do the reasons to attend. In addition to great “SWAG” bags and various raffle prizes, generous awards were given to the top male and female runners in each age category. The overall winners were James Murphy, age 25, with a time of 16:57 and Zandra Walton, age 28, with a  time of 19:19.


We would like to extend our sincerest gratitude to all of the race organizers, sponsors, volunteers, donors, and participants who make this event a success! Thank you!

The full list of race results, courtesy of Run the Day, can be found here.

To view all of the photos from the event, click here.

To view the 6ABC news coverage of the event, click here.

For more information, visit:

ADNI3 launches with the help of a donation of over $14 million from patient advocacy groups, industry, and individuals to support critical Alzheimer’s research.

The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) announced last week that it has received a donation of more than $14 million to launch the third phase of the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, or ADNI3, a study aimed at identifying biomarkers from brain scans, genetics, blood, and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to detect the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

The donation comes from a united effort among several patient advocacy groups, private foundations, industry, and individual donors dedicated to helping make a difference in the field of Alzheimer’s research.

“Additions to the third phase of ADNI include recruiting 1,200 volunteers to join about 800 current participants to enrich the existing dataset, using state-of-the-art imaging techniques to monitor brain levels of tau, a protein that is often abnormal in Alzheimer’s patients, and performing cutting-edge analyses to assess complex interactions between the brain and body,” according to the official FNIH press release. “ADNI3 also will assess cognitive function through computer tests at home and in the doctor’s office and measure changes in subjects’ ability to handle money, which can be a warning sign of the disease.”

The University of Pennsylvania’s John Q. Trojanowski, MD, PhD, director of the Institute on Aging and professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and Leslie M. Shaw, PhD, professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, are heavily involved in ADNI and co-direct its Biomarker Core.

johnheadshot“This phase of ADNI will bring us close to defining highly informative AD biomarkers for the diagnosis of AD even before its clinical onset, thereby making it possible to conduct prevention trials of therapies that could arrest the AD process in presymptomatic individuals even before AD begins to manifest clinically in patients,” said Dr. Trojanowski. “We are so grateful to the donors who have helped make this possible.”

In addition to banking biofluids from their unique cohort of subjects, the Biomarker Core also conducts studies including those to identify new biomarkers and species of tau and a-beta in CSF and plasma.

lesshaw_hsDr. Shaw explained “the ADNI3 study enables us to build on the progress of validation and standardization of AD biomarker tests that detect neuropathologic hallmarks of the disease and track disease progression over years of time within individual study subjects. As a result of the generous support of donors to the ADNI3 study, this work now continues and we expect to see these tests used to determine subject eligibility in therapeutic trials at all stages of the disease and to reflect therapeutic effects.”

To learn more about ADNI, visit:

Full FNIH Press Release.

Stopping Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias: Advancing our Nation’s Research Agenda — The FY 2018 Bypass Budget

The FY 2018 Bypass Budget, also known as the professional judgment budget, was released last month, estimating that an increase of close to $414 million will be needed to meet the research goals of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease.

According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the bypass budget “includes a set of targeted milestones and an estimate of the additional investment needed in fiscal year (FY) 2018, above the base for Alzheimer’s and related dementias (ADRD) in the President’s FY 2017 budget to help NIH—and the Nation—move forward to end the devastation of dementia.”

The proposal touches upon several areas of the ADRD plan including Diagnosis, Assessment, and Disease Monitoring, Care and Caregiver Support, Translational Research and Clinical Intervention, and Research Resources. Among the Research Resources, it highlights the NIA Genetics of Alzheimer’s Disease Data Storage Site (NIAGADS),* a web-based warehouse for AD genetics that is stationed at the University of Pennsylvania and led by Li-San Wang, PhD, associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

NIAGADS collaborates closely with the Alzheimer’s Disease Genetics Consortium (ADGC), led by Principal Investigator Gerard Schellenberg, PhD. Both projects play important roles in the Alzheimer’s Disease Sequencing Project (ADSP), a presidential initiative under the National Alzheimer’s Project Act to identify genomic variants associated with Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease (LOAD).

The bypass budget also highlights recent basic, translational, and clinical research as well as studies focused on improving the understanding, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of Alzheimer’s and related dementias, all of which are supported by the NIH.

To review the full proposal, click here.

* New NIAGADS website coming soon

Could this be the breakthrough that Alzheimer’s research has been waiting for?

News of success in a recent drug trial hit the media yesterday, showing some promise in the field of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) research. According to the paper published this week in Nature, scientists showed that by using high doses of an antibody called aducanumab that they were able to reduce the amount of amyloid plaques — a building block of Alzheimer’s disease — and essentially erase one of the visible signs of AD in the brain.

The study was conducted by scanning the brains of individuals diagnosed with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease in which participants were randomly selected to receive either a placebo or one of three doses of the antibody once a month over the course of a year. Results showed that those receiving the highest dosage showed the most reduction of amyloid with some also experiencing a slower rate of cognitive decline.

While this is not the first trial of its kind, one researcher on the study is very hopeful that this could be the breakthrough that Alzheimer’s research has been waiting for. “Compared to other studies published in the past, the effect size of this drug is unprecedented,” said Professor Roger Nitsch of Zurig University in an article issued by the Independent.

Kurt Brunden, PhD, director of Drug Discovery and research professor at Penn’s Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (CNDR), agrees that the current findings are encouraging, but believes more is needed to verify the true effectiveness.

BrundenKurt_hsThe Phase 1b clinical data obtained with aducanumab appear to be quite encouraging, with the apparent reduction in senile plaque burden as revealed by PET imaging being particularly noteworthy. However, this was a small trial that wasn’t designed to generate definitive data on improvement in patient cognitive performance. Thus, the results from ongoing larger clinical studies with this immunotherapeutic agent will be critical in demonstrating that a reduction in senile plaques in patients with mild cognitive impairments (MCI) or early AD results in an improvement in cognitive measures,” he explained.

Dr. Brunden’s work at CNDR focuses on overseeing research programs geared towards identifying therapeutic targets and potential treatments for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases. He is leading this year’s CNDR Marian S. Ware Research Retreat, which will cover the topic of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease Drug Discovery and will feature a variety of presenters from Penn and beyond.

You can learn more about the aducanumab trial in this recently published article by TIME.