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The background image is Dr. Xuemei Huang, Distinguished Professor and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Neurology at Penn State College of Medicine, gestures toward a computer screen with images of a brain on it.

Improving life for those with neurological disorders

Penn State College of Medicine’s Translational Brain Research Center provides infrastructure and support for research into neurological and movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple system atrophy and progressive supranuclear palsy. The goal of this research is to improve patient care and quality of life for people living with these conditions.

The center also trains physicians and multidisciplinary scientists to be future leaders in this field.

The Translational Brain Research Center comprises:

Learn more about the team and how to help with their work here.

Get involved in research

  • The Translational Brain Research Center (TBRC) is committed to using novel imaging techniques and designs to develop imaging biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease and its related disorders.

    The TBRC also is actively investigating the interactive role of genetic and environmental factors in the etiology of these diseases.

    Through application of sophisticated pharmacological approaches and participation in clinical trials, the center is committed to advancing treatment for patients with Parkinson’s disease and related disorders, such as multiple system atrophy and progressive supranuclear palsy.

  • Disease Overview

    Parkinson’s disease is a condition that causes some brain cells, particularly those making dopamine, to die. The impacted brain cells help control movement and coordination, so as the disease progresses, patients with Parkinson’s disease experience significant shaking (tremors) and stiffness.

    Parkinson’s disease is also called paralysis agitans or shaking palsy.

    About 1 million adults in the United States have Parkinson’s disease, particularly those that are responsible for making dopamine.

    See clinical care information

    Research Opportunities: Early Parkinson’s Disease

    Early Parkinson’s disease includes approximately the first three years from diagnosis.

    Study title: Multimodal MR imaging of the midbrain for early Parkinson’s progression

    Funder: Michael J. Fox Foundation

    Study description: This longitudinal study collects MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) data from early-stage Parkinson’s patients as well as volunteers without Parkinson’s, all of whom are 35 to 85 years old.

    Goal:The goal of the study is to assess two new MRI markers that may be used to better capture early Parkinson’s disease progression.

    Methodology: After eligibility is confirmed at the screening visit, basic demographic information (such as age, education, dominant hand) and clinical information (such as height, weight and blood pressure) are collected. Subjects are asked to provide a fasting blood sample, complete some questionnaires and a scratch-and-sniff smell test and undergo a brief motor exam and brain MRI.

    See details on Studyfinder

    Research Opportunities: Parkinson’s Disease

    These research opportunities are for those in any stage of Parkinson’s disease.

    Study title: Discovery of multimodal biomarkers for parkinsonian syndromes, their progression, and pathological relevance

    Funder: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

    Study description: Parkinson’s disease and a number of similar conditions, such as progressive supranuclear palsy and multiple system atrophy, often look very similar clinically, particularly early in the disease. Since there is no objective way to diagnose these disorders definitively, the current practice is to follow patients over time to “allow the disease to reveal itself.” Evidence indicates, however, that even the best movement disorder specialist can get the diagnosis wrong approximately 25 percent of the time. This lack of diagnostic certainty has limited both clinical practice and research. Efforts from many groups, including the Translational Brain Research Center, have shown that multiple brain MRI and biofluid measures (such as blood and cerebrospinal fluid) of misfolded proteins have great potential for differentiating these similar conditions.

    Goal: The goal of this project is to determine whether specific MRI and biofluid measures can help better diagnose Parkinson’s, progressive supranuclear palsy and multiple system atrophy patients.

    Methodology: In this study of adults 21 or older, both people with probable or possible Parkinson’s, progressive supranuclear palsy or multiple system atrophy, as well as people without these conditions, are asked to complete screening, baseline and 12-month visits. After eligibility is confirmed at the screening visit, basic demographic information (such as age, education, dominant hand) and clinical information (such as height, weight and blood pressure) are collected. Subjects are asked to provide a fasting blood sample, complete some questionnaires and a scratch-and-sniff smell test and undergo a brief motor exam and brain MRI. Subjects also may choose to have a lumbar puncture, which is commonly referred to as a spinal tap, performed at their baseline and 12-month visit. They also have the option to donate their brain to the brain donation program following their death. (See the “Brain donation program” section for details.)

    See details on Studyfinder

  • Disease Overview

    Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a rare, progressive neurological disorder that affects parts of the brain responsible for controlling movement and involuntary processes, such as blood pressure, heartbeat, urination, bowel movement and sleep patterns. During the disease progression, abnormal deposits of the protein alpha-synuclein accumulate in glial cells, causing nerve cells to function improperly and die. MSA may look like Parkinson’s disease in the way it affects movement, such as tremor, slowness, stiffness and shuffling gait.

    Currently, the exact causes of MSA are unknown. Like many other diseases, it may not have a single cause, but may come from a combination of genetic, environmental and behavioral factors.

    See clinical care information

    Research opportunities

    Study title: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of BHV-3241 in subjects with multiple system atrophy (MSA)

    Funder: Biohaven Pharmaceuticals

    Study overview: This study is a Phase III placebo-controlled clinical trial designed to assess the effectiveness and safety of study drug BHV-3421 in people 40 to 80 years old who have been diagnosed with possible or probable MSA.

    Methodology: The study design includes an approximately six-week screening period and a 48-week treatment phase. A total of 252 subjects across multiple sites will be randomly assigned to receive either the study drug or a placebo (a pill with no active ingredient) during the course of the study. Both the study team members and subjects are “blinded,” which means they do not know whether the study drug or placebo was randomly assigned.


    Study title: Discovery of multimodal biomarkers for parkinsonian syndromes, their progression, and pathological relevance

    Funder: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

    Study description: Parkinson’s disease and a number of similar conditions, such as progressive supranuclear palsy and multiple system atrophy, often look very similar clinically, particularly early in the disease. Since there is no objective way to diagnose these disorders definitively, the current practice is to follow patients over time to “allow the disease to reveal itself.” Evidence indicates, however, that even the best movement disorder specialist can get the diagnosis wrong approximately 25 percent of the time. This lack of diagnostic certainty has limited both clinical practice and research. Efforts from many groups, including the Translational Brain Research Center, have shown that multiple brain MRI and biofluid measures (such as blood and cerebrospinal fluid) of misfolded proteins have great potential for differentiating these similar conditions.

    Goal: The goal of this project is to determine whether specific MRI and biofluid measures can help better diagnose Parkinson’s, progressive supranuclear palsy and multiple system atrophy patients.

    Methodology: In this study of adults 21 or older, both people with probable or possible Parkinson’s, progressive supranuclear palsy or multiple system atrophy, as well as people without these conditions, are asked to complete screening, baseline and 12-month visits. After eligibility is confirmed at the screening visit, basic demographic information (such as age, education, dominant hand) and clinical information (such as height, weight and blood pressure) are collected. Subjects are asked to provide a fasting blood sample, complete some questionnaires and a scratch-and-sniff smell test and undergo a brief motor exam and brain MRI. Subjects also may choose to have a lumbar puncture, which is commonly referred to as a spinal tap, performed at their baseline and 12-month visit. They also have the option to donate their brain to the brain donation program following their death. (See the “Brain donation program” section for details.)

    See details on Studyfinder

  • Disease Overview

    Previously referred to as Steele-Richardson-Olszewski syndrome, progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) is an uncommon neurological disorder that mainly affects the brain regions responsible for controlling movement, including the movement of the eyes, and balance. During the disease process, abnormal deposits of a protein called tau accumulate in nerve cells, causing these cells to function improperly and die. PSP often is misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease since both conditions have symptoms that affect movement, such as stiffness, slowness, gait impairment and loss of coordination and balance.

    Currently, the exact causes of PSP are unknown. Like many other diseases, it may not have a single cause, but could be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental and behavioral factors.

    See clinical care information

    Research Opportunities

    Study title: Discovery of multimodal biomarkers for parkinsonian syndromes, their progression, and pathological relevance

    Funder: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

    Study description: Parkinson’s disease and a number of similar conditions, such as progressive supranuclear palsy and multiple system atrophy, often look very similar clinically, particularly early in the disease. Since there is no objective way to diagnose these disorders definitively, the current practice is to follow patients over time to “allow the disease to reveal itself.” Evidence indicates, however, that even the best movement disorder specialist can get the diagnosis wrong approximately 25 percent of the time. This lack of diagnostic certainty has limited both clinical practice and research. Efforts from many groups, including the Translational Brain Research Center, have shown that multiple brain MRI and biofluid measures (such as blood and cerebrospinal fluid) of misfolded proteins have great potential for differentiating these similar conditions.

    Goal: The goal of this project is to determine whether specific MRI and biofluid measures can help better diagnose Parkinson’s, progressive supranuclear palsy and multiple system atrophy patients.

    Methodology: In this study of adults 21 or older, both people with probable or possible Parkinson’s, progressive supranuclear palsy or multiple system atrophy, as well as people without these conditions, are asked to complete screening, baseline and 12-month visits. After eligibility is confirmed at the screening visit, basic demographic information (such as age, education, dominant hand) and clinical information (such as height, weight and blood pressure) are collected. Subjects are asked to provide a fasting blood sample, complete some questionnaires and a scratch-and-sniff smell test and undergo a brief motor exam and brain MRI. Subjects also may choose to have a lumbar puncture, which is commonly referred to as a spinal tap, performed at their baseline and 12-month visit. They also have the option to donate their brain to the brain donation program following their death. (See the “Brain donation program” section for details.)

    See details on Studyfinder

  • Research Opportunities

    Study title: Regional brain manganese accumulation and functional consequences in welders

    Funder: This study is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and is not affiliated with any private entities such as law firms.

    Study overview: Inhalation of welding fumes has been known to cause tremor, muscle rigidity and abnormal gait similar to what is seen in Parkinson’s disease. Previous studies by the Translational Brain Research Center have used measures such as brain MRIs and tests for movement and function to investigate the effect of these welding fumes on brain health in active welders. The center is currently expanding its efforts to investigate brain health in retired welders.

    Methodology: Study participants are asked to complete screening, baseline and 18-month visits. The screening visit includes an orbital x-ray to make sure that no metal fragments are in the subjects’ eyes, which would prevent an MRI from being performed. After eligibility is confirmed, participants are asked to provide a fasting blood sample, complete lifestyle questionnaires and memory tests and undergo a brief motor exam and brain MRI. Subjects also are mailed a welding exposure questionnaire to complete every three months between their baseline and follow-up visit. Subjects also may choose to participate in a supplemental study. In this project, participants are provided with a smartphone and are asked to complete a variety of short tests and questionnaires over a 14-day period. Adult volunteers both with and without exposure to welding fumes are being recruited.

    See details on Studyfinder

  • Overview

    The Translational Brain Research Center is committed to conducting research that may lead to a better understanding and treatment of Parkinson’s disease (PD) and related disorders. Through these efforts, the center hopes to improve the quality of life of its patients, their families and communities.

    Previous pathologic studies indicate that approximately 35 percent of subjects with a clinical diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease may end up having a different disease. Consequently, the center has established a brain donation program.

    Patients with diagnoses of Parkinson’s disease, progressive supranuclear palsy or multiple system atrophy who are participants in the center’s biomarker studies may also choose to donate their brain to the center for research following their death. This option also is available to these studies’ healthy volunteers.

    Studies of the donated brains are designed to accurately determine the conditions present in each participant. This information will be shared with the participant’s family and will be used to improve diagnostic accuracy for future patients.

    Methodology

    When a participant in the brain donation program passes away, the study team will work with the appropriate funeral home and Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center Decedent Care (717-531-7463) to ensure the gift is honored.

    Program personnel also are able to coordinate donations with out-of-state facilities.

    Learn more

    For details on the brain donation program, call 717-531-5233, then dial 4 for Parkinson’s and parkinsonism studies, or email the study team at TBRC@pennstatehealth.psu.edu.

The Translational Brain Research Center (TBRC) is committed to using novel imaging techniques and designs to develop imaging biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease and its related disorders.

The TBRC also is actively investigating the interactive role of genetic and environmental factors in the etiology of these diseases.

Through application of sophisticated pharmacological approaches and participation in clinical trials, the center is committed to advancing treatment for patients with Parkinson’s disease and related disorders, such as multiple system atrophy and progressive supranuclear palsy.

Disease Overview

Parkinson’s disease is a condition that causes some brain cells, particularly those making dopamine, to die. The impacted brain cells help control movement and coordination, so as the disease progresses, patients with Parkinson’s disease experience significant shaking (tremors) and stiffness.

Parkinson’s disease is also called paralysis agitans or shaking palsy.

About 1 million adults in the United States have Parkinson’s disease, particularly those that are responsible for making dopamine.

See clinical care information

Research Opportunities: Early Parkinson’s Disease

Early Parkinson’s disease includes approximately the first three years from diagnosis.

Study title: Multimodal MR imaging of the midbrain for early Parkinson’s progression

Funder: Michael J. Fox Foundation

Study description: This longitudinal study collects MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) data from early-stage Parkinson’s patients as well as volunteers without Parkinson’s, all of whom are 35 to 85 years old.

Goal:The goal of the study is to assess two new MRI markers that may be used to better capture early Parkinson’s disease progression.

Methodology: After eligibility is confirmed at the screening visit, basic demographic information (such as age, education, dominant hand) and clinical information (such as height, weight and blood pressure) are collected. Subjects are asked to provide a fasting blood sample, complete some questionnaires and a scratch-and-sniff smell test and undergo a brief motor exam and brain MRI.

See details on Studyfinder

Research Opportunities: Parkinson’s Disease

These research opportunities are for those in any stage of Parkinson’s disease.

Study title: Discovery of multimodal biomarkers for parkinsonian syndromes, their progression, and pathological relevance

Funder: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Study description: Parkinson’s disease and a number of similar conditions, such as progressive supranuclear palsy and multiple system atrophy, often look very similar clinically, particularly early in the disease. Since there is no objective way to diagnose these disorders definitively, the current practice is to follow patients over time to “allow the disease to reveal itself.” Evidence indicates, however, that even the best movement disorder specialist can get the diagnosis wrong approximately 25 percent of the time. This lack of diagnostic certainty has limited both clinical practice and research. Efforts from many groups, including the Translational Brain Research Center, have shown that multiple brain MRI and biofluid measures (such as blood and cerebrospinal fluid) of misfolded proteins have great potential for differentiating these similar conditions.

Goal: The goal of this project is to determine whether specific MRI and biofluid measures can help better diagnose Parkinson’s, progressive supranuclear palsy and multiple system atrophy patients.

Methodology: In this study of adults 21 or older, both people with probable or possible Parkinson’s, progressive supranuclear palsy or multiple system atrophy, as well as people without these conditions, are asked to complete screening, baseline and 12-month visits. After eligibility is confirmed at the screening visit, basic demographic information (such as age, education, dominant hand) and clinical information (such as height, weight and blood pressure) are collected. Subjects are asked to provide a fasting blood sample, complete some questionnaires and a scratch-and-sniff smell test and undergo a brief motor exam and brain MRI. Subjects also may choose to have a lumbar puncture, which is commonly referred to as a spinal tap, performed at their baseline and 12-month visit. They also have the option to donate their brain to the brain donation program following their death. (See the “Brain donation program” section for details.)

See details on Studyfinder

Disease Overview

Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a rare, progressive neurological disorder that affects parts of the brain responsible for controlling movement and involuntary processes, such as blood pressure, heartbeat, urination, bowel movement and sleep patterns. During the disease progression, abnormal deposits of the protein alpha-synuclein accumulate in glial cells, causing nerve cells to function improperly and die. MSA may look like Parkinson’s disease in the way it affects movement, such as tremor, slowness, stiffness and shuffling gait.

Currently, the exact causes of MSA are unknown. Like many other diseases, it may not have a single cause, but may come from a combination of genetic, environmental and behavioral factors.

See clinical care information

Research opportunities

Study title: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of BHV-3241 in subjects with multiple system atrophy (MSA)

Funder: Biohaven Pharmaceuticals

Study overview: This study is a Phase III placebo-controlled clinical trial designed to assess the effectiveness and safety of study drug BHV-3421 in people 40 to 80 years old who have been diagnosed with possible or probable MSA.

Methodology: The study design includes an approximately six-week screening period and a 48-week treatment phase. A total of 252 subjects across multiple sites will be randomly assigned to receive either the study drug or a placebo (a pill with no active ingredient) during the course of the study. Both the study team members and subjects are “blinded,” which means they do not know whether the study drug or placebo was randomly assigned.


Study title: Discovery of multimodal biomarkers for parkinsonian syndromes, their progression, and pathological relevance

Funder: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Study description: Parkinson’s disease and a number of similar conditions, such as progressive supranuclear palsy and multiple system atrophy, often look very similar clinically, particularly early in the disease. Since there is no objective way to diagnose these disorders definitively, the current practice is to follow patients over time to “allow the disease to reveal itself.” Evidence indicates, however, that even the best movement disorder specialist can get the diagnosis wrong approximately 25 percent of the time. This lack of diagnostic certainty has limited both clinical practice and research. Efforts from many groups, including the Translational Brain Research Center, have shown that multiple brain MRI and biofluid measures (such as blood and cerebrospinal fluid) of misfolded proteins have great potential for differentiating these similar conditions.

Goal: The goal of this project is to determine whether specific MRI and biofluid measures can help better diagnose Parkinson’s, progressive supranuclear palsy and multiple system atrophy patients.

Methodology: In this study of adults 21 or older, both people with probable or possible Parkinson’s, progressive supranuclear palsy or multiple system atrophy, as well as people without these conditions, are asked to complete screening, baseline and 12-month visits. After eligibility is confirmed at the screening visit, basic demographic information (such as age, education, dominant hand) and clinical information (such as height, weight and blood pressure) are collected. Subjects are asked to provide a fasting blood sample, complete some questionnaires and a scratch-and-sniff smell test and undergo a brief motor exam and brain MRI. Subjects also may choose to have a lumbar puncture, which is commonly referred to as a spinal tap, performed at their baseline and 12-month visit. They also have the option to donate their brain to the brain donation program following their death. (See the “Brain donation program” section for details.)

See details on Studyfinder

Disease Overview

Previously referred to as Steele-Richardson-Olszewski syndrome, progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) is an uncommon neurological disorder that mainly affects the brain regions responsible for controlling movement, including the movement of the eyes, and balance. During the disease process, abnormal deposits of a protein called tau accumulate in nerve cells, causing these cells to function improperly and die. PSP often is misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease since both conditions have symptoms that affect movement, such as stiffness, slowness, gait impairment and loss of coordination and balance.

Currently, the exact causes of PSP are unknown. Like many other diseases, it may not have a single cause, but could be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental and behavioral factors.

See clinical care information

Research Opportunities

Study title: Discovery of multimodal biomarkers for parkinsonian syndromes, their progression, and pathological relevance

Funder: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Study description: Parkinson’s disease and a number of similar conditions, such as progressive supranuclear palsy and multiple system atrophy, often look very similar clinically, particularly early in the disease. Since there is no objective way to diagnose these disorders definitively, the current practice is to follow patients over time to “allow the disease to reveal itself.” Evidence indicates, however, that even the best movement disorder specialist can get the diagnosis wrong approximately 25 percent of the time. This lack of diagnostic certainty has limited both clinical practice and research. Efforts from many groups, including the Translational Brain Research Center, have shown that multiple brain MRI and biofluid measures (such as blood and cerebrospinal fluid) of misfolded proteins have great potential for differentiating these similar conditions.

Goal: The goal of this project is to determine whether specific MRI and biofluid measures can help better diagnose Parkinson’s, progressive supranuclear palsy and multiple system atrophy patients.

Methodology: In this study of adults 21 or older, both people with probable or possible Parkinson’s, progressive supranuclear palsy or multiple system atrophy, as well as people without these conditions, are asked to complete screening, baseline and 12-month visits. After eligibility is confirmed at the screening visit, basic demographic information (such as age, education, dominant hand) and clinical information (such as height, weight and blood pressure) are collected. Subjects are asked to provide a fasting blood sample, complete some questionnaires and a scratch-and-sniff smell test and undergo a brief motor exam and brain MRI. Subjects also may choose to have a lumbar puncture, which is commonly referred to as a spinal tap, performed at their baseline and 12-month visit. They also have the option to donate their brain to the brain donation program following their death. (See the “Brain donation program” section for details.)

See details on Studyfinder

Research Opportunities

Study title: Regional brain manganese accumulation and functional consequences in welders

Funder: This study is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and is not affiliated with any private entities such as law firms.

Study overview: Inhalation of welding fumes has been known to cause tremor, muscle rigidity and abnormal gait similar to what is seen in Parkinson’s disease. Previous studies by the Translational Brain Research Center have used measures such as brain MRIs and tests for movement and function to investigate the effect of these welding fumes on brain health in active welders. The center is currently expanding its efforts to investigate brain health in retired welders.

Methodology: Study participants are asked to complete screening, baseline and 18-month visits. The screening visit includes an orbital x-ray to make sure that no metal fragments are in the subjects’ eyes, which would prevent an MRI from being performed. After eligibility is confirmed, participants are asked to provide a fasting blood sample, complete lifestyle questionnaires and memory tests and undergo a brief motor exam and brain MRI. Subjects also are mailed a welding exposure questionnaire to complete every three months between their baseline and follow-up visit. Subjects also may choose to participate in a supplemental study. In this project, participants are provided with a smartphone and are asked to complete a variety of short tests and questionnaires over a 14-day period. Adult volunteers both with and without exposure to welding fumes are being recruited.

See details on Studyfinder

Overview

The Translational Brain Research Center is committed to conducting research that may lead to a better understanding and treatment of Parkinson’s disease (PD) and related disorders. Through these efforts, the center hopes to improve the quality of life of its patients, their families and communities.

Previous pathologic studies indicate that approximately 35 percent of subjects with a clinical diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease may end up having a different disease. Consequently, the center has established a brain donation program.

Patients with diagnoses of Parkinson’s disease, progressive supranuclear palsy or multiple system atrophy who are participants in the center’s biomarker studies may also choose to donate their brain to the center for research following their death. This option also is available to these studies’ healthy volunteers.

Studies of the donated brains are designed to accurately determine the conditions present in each participant. This information will be shared with the participant’s family and will be used to improve diagnostic accuracy for future patients.

Methodology

When a participant in the brain donation program passes away, the study team will work with the appropriate funeral home and Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center Decedent Care (717-531-7463) to ensure the gift is honored.

Program personnel also are able to coordinate donations with out-of-state facilities.

Learn more

For details on the brain donation program, call 717-531-5233, then dial 4 for Parkinson’s and parkinsonism studies, or email the study team at TBRC@pennstatehealth.psu.edu.

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Meet the team

The background image is Images of brain MRI scans showing a tumor in a person's head are seen on a dark background.

Contact the center

Email: TBRC@pennstatehealth.psu.edu

Phone: 717-531-5233 (research questions) or 717-531-3828 (clinical appointments)

Support the Translational Brain Research Center

The Translational Brain Research Center accepts tax-deductible contributions to support these efforts via Penn State College of Medicine’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations.

Make a secure online donation here