The 14th Annual Jane Wright Symposium on Parkinson’s Disease for Patients and Caregivers

Published by Benjamin Deck, Udall Coordinator 

The 14th annual Jane Wright conference was held on June 15th at the Sheraton Hotel on City Line Avenue in Philadelphia, PA. The Jane Wright conference is an annual symposium that brings together the local Parkinson’s community to hear presentations around a central theme and to make people with Parkinson’s (PwP) and their loved ones aware of available resources. The theme this year was, “Hot Topics in Parkinson’s Disease” and the attendance reached an all-time high of over 200 people.

Professor Emeritus of Neurology, Dr. Matthew Stern, MD opened the conference with his lecture on Parkinson’s history and discussed updates to James Parkinson’s original definition of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Some of the issues Dr. Stern outlined were disparate pathologies in PD, PD subtypes, and the idea that current diagnostic criteria do not allow for early diagnosis in PD. One precluding factor of early diagnosis is that motor symptoms are typically not present until later stages of the disease.

The second speaker was the newly appointed Director of Medicine at the Penn Neurological Institute, Dr. Andrew Siderowf, MD. Dr. Siderowf presented new therapeutics in PD such as Safinamide, Rytary, Droxidopa, and Primavanserin. Dr. Siderowf’s presentation also touched on newer surgical interventions for PD such as Focused Ultrasound and Duopa. The presentation then focused on disease modifying procedures and medications that are currently under development, i.e. gene therapy, alpha synuclein anti-body trials, and treatments specialized for specific genetic mutations in PD. View his presentation here.

Assistant Professor of Neurology, Dr. Lama Chahine, MD, spoke of biomarkers and the crucial role that they will play in the diagnosis, prognostication, and treatment of PD. Dr. Chahine made the compelling case for further research on biomarkers in PD by showing the subjectivity of in-clinic motor exams, which are currently the gold standard for a PD diagnosis in movement disorder clinics. Dr. Chahine emphasized that biomarker discovery in cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), blood, and tissue sampling (collected most recently for this trial), could one day diagnose patients earlier and/or better treat the disease.

The final speaker at this year’s Jane Wright Conference was Movement Disorders Fellow, Dr. Michelle Fullard, MD. Dr. Fullard’s presentation outlined the recent technological advances that are helping to deliver better and more accessible treatments. Telemedicine has been implemented in many clinics and decreases travel burden for PD patients who often find this to be a barrier to quality care. Telemedicine allows physicians to remotely diagnose and treat individuals through the use of telecommunications technology. Dr. Fullard also discussed wearable devices that can track a PD patient’s movements through the use of accelerometers and other such technology. The hope its that these devices would allow movement disorder specialists to better understand the motor complications of their patients.

JW Symposium 2017 picture

Lastly, Dr. Stern was awarded an Proclamation signed by Mayor Jim Kenney that decrees April as Parkinson’s Awareness Month in Philadelphia. The proclamation was presented by Ms. Lori Katz and a represenative from Mayor Kenney’s office (pictured above).

View all presentation slides here.



CNDR Researcher receives second place prize for poster on Alpha-Synuclein at 2016 Udall Center Directors Meeting

Last month, Chao Peng, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research, won a second place poster prize at the 2016 Udall Center Directors Annual Meeting.

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


Chao Peng (second from the right) with Walter Koroshetz, MD, Director of NINDS (far left), and his fellow poster winners at the Udall Center Directors Meeting.

Peng’s poster was on the properties of the misfolded alpha-synuclein protein in different neurodegenerative diseases.

Alpha-synuclein is known for playing a key role in the development of Parkinson’s disease (PD), however, this protein is not unique to PD. Alpha-synuclein is also present in the brains of patients with Lewy body dementia (LBD) and Multiple system atrophy (MSA).

During a video interview with the Institute on Aging (see below), Chao Peng explains that alpha-synuclein accumulation is also present in almost 50% of Alzheimer’s disease cases.

While these diseases all show signs of this same misfolded protein, they actually exhibit very different pathological and clinical behaviors than one would experience with Parkinson’s disease—but how?

Chao Peng and his colleagues at CNDR are using multiple different cell and animal models to better understand not only how this occurs and why the same misfolded protein can cause one disease in one patient but something different in others, but what this could mean for potential treatments. Learn more here:

Progressive Supranuclear Palsy: A “prime of life disease”

Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) is a rare brain disorder that affects the nerve cells in the brain that control walking, balance, mobility, vision, speech, and swallowing and gradually worsens over time. It affects an estimated three to six in every 100,000 people worldwide—or approximately 20,000 Americans—according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 2.12.05 PM

While one of the most classic identifying symptoms for PSP is the inability to aim and move the eyes properly, the most frequent first symptom to arise is the loss of balance while walking. This can appear in the form of unexplained falls, stiffness, or awkwardness in gait.

Some symptoms are very similar to those in Parkinson’s disease, including stiffness, movement problems, and clumsiness for example, but PSP, true to its name, progresses much quicker. Other distinctions between the two disorders are seen symptomatically through things like postural differences—people with PSP tend to stand exceptionally straight or with their head tilted backwards whereas people with PD are typically bent forward—while others have more to do with the pathology of the disease. In PSP, the most prominent protein accumulation seen in the brain is tau, but the most prominent protein found in a Parkinson’s brain is alpha-synuclein.

Living with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy

In the CurePSP produced video below, hear one family’s touching story of how a PSP diagnosis has changed their lives.

A close partner of the neurodegenerative disease-related centers here at Penn, CurePSP identifies as one of the leading nonprofit advocacy organization focused on prime of life diseases with the goal of understanding their causes and discovering potential treatments, and has funded more than 160 research studies. 

* CurePSP recognizes the following as prime of life diseases: Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), Corticobasal Degeneration (CBD), Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA), Motor Neuron Disease (MND), Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), Frontotemporal Degeneration (FTD), Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s Disease (PD), Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), and  Multiple System Atrophy (MSA).

Penn’s 4th Annual 5K for the IOA and The Memory Mile Walk!

The 4th Annual 5K for the IOA & The Memory Mile Walk is now in the books!

_DB49093On Sunday, September 20, 2015, a record 435 committed Penn faculty, staff and friends and families of those affected by age-related diseases were up early on a windy, late summer morning to run and walk to raise money and awareness for the work of the IOA. This was the largest turnout for the event since it began in 2012.

The 3.1 mile run started at Franklin Field and took participants through Penn Park with skyline views of Center City from West Philadelphia. The Memory Mile Walk wound walkers down Locust Walk and through the scenic Penn campus. This year, leashed dogs were permitted to tag along for the Memory Mile walk. The top three male and female runners in several different age groups were given awards, while the top overall runners, James Murphy (16:45) and Zandra Walton (19:40) received special prizes, Philadelphia Runner gift certificates.

The annual 5K for the IOA and Memory Mile walk has become a tradition at Penn Medicine. Over the past four years, the event has raised more than $170,000 in support of basic and clinical research into normal aging processes and age-related diseases. This includes disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as osteoporosis and frailty, and more.

“This event is a wonderful way to celebrate the progress we have made in better understanding the mechanisms involved in the development and progression of Alzheimer’s and age-related diseases,” John Trojanowski, MD, PhD, professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and director of the Institute on Aging, told the crowd on race day. “The money it raises also helps us on our mission to someday eradicate these often devastating diseases.” Trojanowski works closely with Virginia M.Y. Lee, PhD, MBA, professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (CNDR). The IOA collaborates across Penn Medicine, with the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (CNDR), the Penn Memory Center, Alzheimer’s Disease Center and the Udall Center for Parkinson’s Disease Research.

“It is truly a race against time in aging research,” said P.J. Brennan, MD, chief medical officer for Penn Medicine and organizer of the race. “With the population aging, we need the research dollars so that we can increase the treatment options for the growing number of patients with Alzheimer’s and aging-related disorders.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For more photos from the 5k for the IOA & The Memory Mile Walk, visit our Facebook page.
For the full list of race results, visit Run the Day.

Published by: Lee-Ann Donegan, Penn Medicine Communications and Nicolette Patete, Institute on Aging

A Virtual Tour of the Penn Udall Center for Parkinson’s Research

The goals of the Morris K. Udall Parkinson’s Disease Research Center of Excellence, which was launched at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 2007, are to shed light on the mechanisms of disease progression and alpha-synuclein transmission through collaborations between basic and translational research.

Throughout this virtual tour, you will visit the various researchers and clinicians who have dedicated their lives to fulfilling these goals. As you will see, their mission is to conduct multidisciplinary clinical, translational, and basic research that improves the understanding of and develops better treatments for patients with Parkinson’s disease. These ideas are the driving force behind each of the Cores and Projects listed below that will be highlighted in this tour:

Udall Cores:
Core A: Administrative Core
Core B: Clinical Core
Core D: Neuropathology, Biomarker, and Genetics Core
Core C: Biostatistics, Bioinformatics, and Data Management Core

Udall Projects:
Project I: A Multimodal Biomarker Approach to Evaluating and Predicting Cognitive Decline in Lewy Body Diseases
Project II: Mechanisms of PD Executive Dysfunction in Language
Project III: Mechanisms of Transmission of Pathological Alpha-synuclein in Neurons
Project IV: Immunotherapy Targeting PD Transmission in Animal Models

For more information on the Udall Center on Parkinson’s Research, visit:

What is PD? Help spread the word during Parkinson’s Awareness Month

 Parkinson’s Awareness Month

PDAwarenessThroughout the month of April, the IOA will be celebrating Parkinson’s Awareness Month. As close collaborators of the Penn Udall Center for Parkinson’s Research and the Penn Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center (PDMDC), it is our goal to help facilitate and support the groundbreaking research and care for Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients and their loved ones here at Penn.



So, what is Parkinson’s disease?

SubstantiaNigraParkinson’s disease is a “chronic and progressive disorder of the nervous system that primarily affects movement.” It develops when a group of cells in an area of the brain called the substantia nigra begin to malfunction and die. These cells are responsible for the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that sends information to the parts of the brain that control movement and coordination. As the dopamine-producing cells die and the level of dopamine in the brain decreases, messages from the brain telling the body how and when to move are slowed more and more, rendering the person unable to initiate and control movement normally.

Other symptoms of PD can include problems with thinking and changes in mood and/or sleep, as well as involuntary movements like tremors or muscle stiffness. While there is currently no cure for PD, there are ways to treat the symptoms. Treatment options include deep brain stimulation, drug treatment, occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychiatric and neuropsychology services, and speech therapy among others.

Parkinson’s Disease Facts
Courtesy of PDMDC and

  • Parkinson’s disease affects one in 100 people over the age of 60.
  • The exact cause of PD is unknown, but both genetic and environment are causes.
  • There is no single test to diagnose PD. Neurologists make diagnoses based on assessment of symptoms, medical history, and neurological and physical examinations. In some cases, advanced imaging techniques like MRI scans or dopamine imaging scans can help make the diagnosis by ruling out other disorders.

Celebrate Parkinson’s Awareness Month with the IOA

#FaceTheFactsFriday: This year, the IOA will celebrate Parkinson’s Awareness month in a few different ways. Each Friday this month, the IOA will participate in ‘Face the Facts Friday.’ Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter for a new Parkinson’s disease fact each week. Share our posts and use the hashtags #FacetheFactsFriday and #ParkinsonsAwarenessMonth to join in on the conversation and help spread the word!

Penn Udall Center for Parkinson’s Research Virtual Tour

Towards the end of the month, be sure to keep an eye out for the official premiere of the Penn Udall Center for Parkinson’s Research Virtual Tour video! The video will highlight the talented team of researchers, scientists, and Udall collaborators and the groundbreaking work being done here at Penn. You will get a look into both the clinical and basic research that is at the foundation of our projects and how these investigators are working to improve and increase the levels of education and research on this neurodegenerative disease.

Penn Medicine’s Howard Hurtig, MD Discusses Recognizing the Differences of Alzheimer’s Disease and Lewy Body Dementia in his recent PsychCentral Feature

A recent PsychCentral article featuring Penn Medicine’s Howard Hurtig, MD, Chair, Department ofNeurology, Pennsylvania Hospital and Clinical Core Leader of Penn’s Udall Center for Parkinson’s Disease Research, discusses the importance of differentiating between the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and its lesser-known cousin, Lewy Body Dementia (LBD).

lbdaNot only does the general public know less about LBD, but physicians also often misdiagnose it as Alzheimer’s disease. While both are indeed neurodegenerative diseases associated with aging, the difference is the LBD affects the areas of the brain that are responsible for behavior, memory, movement, and personality, while Alzheimer’s primarily affects the areas of the brain that control learning and memory. However, that is not the only difference between the two diseases.

According to PsychCentral’s quote from Dr. Hurtig, “while symptoms of LBD may be similar to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, the treatment strategy is more challenging because fewer medications can be used safely.” Because some drugs that are prescribed for Alzheimer’s disease can be very harmful to those with LBD, Hurtig stressed that one of the most important things in recognizing the difference between these diagnoses is to ensure the patient is avoiding all medications that may worsen symptoms.

The full article is available here.

Image courtesy of Lewy Body Dementia Association via PsychCentral.