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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:

Get involved in research

  • Overview

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

    Funder: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

    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.

    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.

  • Overview

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

    Funder: Michael J. Fox Foundation

    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.

    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.

  • Overview

    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

    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.

  • Overview

    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.

    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.

    Learn more

    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 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.

Overview

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

Funder: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

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.

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.

Overview

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

Funder: Michael J. Fox Foundation

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.

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.

Overview

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

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.

Overview

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.

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.

Learn more

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 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)