National Parkinson Foundation designates UNC as 'Center of Excellence'


Dr. Xuemei Huang

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - The National Parkinson Foundation has designated the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as an NPF Center of Excellence.

With this accolade, the UNC School of Medicine and UNC Hospitals became the first medical center in North Carolina to join the ranks of only 42 NPF Centers of Excellence worldwide. UNC is the only such center in the North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia region. "This is quite an honor for our Parkinson's program," said Dr. Xuemei Huang, an assistant professor in UNC's Department of Neurology and medical director of the newly designated NPF Center of Excellence at UNC Hospitals. "It is a validation of our department's increased focus on neurodegenerative disorders over the last three years. That is leading to better patient care informed by the latest cutting-edge research."

Daniel Kaufer

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After finishing her medical training, Huang earned a Ph.D. and completed postdoctoral training in Parkinson's-related research. Then she completed a clinical movement disorder fellowship at Emory University in Atlanta. She joined the UNC faculty in 2002 when she founded the Movement Disorders Clinic. She was soon joined by Dr. Richard Murrow, and the number of Parkinson's patients treated in the clinic has since grown to more than 300. Parkinson's disease is the second most common age-related disorder after Alzheimer's, and the number of people with Parkinson's is expected to increase dramatically over the next 10-12 years as the population of people aged 65 and older expands.

The NPF notified UNC of the designation in a letter to Huang. "This designation constitutes NPF's public seal of approval, defining the gold standard in Parkinson research, support and care," the letter said. The letter said further that UNC is eligible to apply for grants from the foundation next year to support basic or clinical research, comprehensive care for Parkinson disease and outreach services. One of UNC's near-term goals for its NPF Center of Excellence is to hire a full-time outreach coordinator.

Dr. Richard Murrow

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According to the NPF's Charter for Centers of Excellence, these centers "are expected to assume a leadership position in the provision of innovative models of service and in the development of community relations to support health-promotion efforts in Parkinson disease." "In short, a Center of Excellence is expected to be the place to which persons with Parkinson disease, caregivers and families, health-care providers, and others in the community turn for the most up-to-date research, specialized services, support, information and referral services for Parkinson disease," the Charter says.

UNC's Department of Neurology has been actively caring for patients with Parkinson's disease since the opening of N.C. Memorial Hospital in 1952. And in the last two years, there has been a rapid expansion in resources and expertise devoted to Parkinson's disease at UNC. Dr. Frank Longo, chair of the department, has made movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease a high-priority area. To provide state-of-the-art clinical care, he recruited several new faculty members, including Drs. Huang, Murrow, Alexander I. Tröster and Daniel Kaufer, Huang leads UNC's translational research program in Parkinson's disease and Murrow is developing a nationally recognized deep brain stimulation program. Tröster, brings recognized expertise in cognitive and related aspects of Parkinson's disease, including caregiver coping and quality of life issues. Kaufer was recruited to head the memory and cognitive disorders division, and provides expertise in managing cognitive and neuropsychiatric symptoms that commonly occur in Parkinson disease.

Dr. Alexander I. Tröster

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Together this reflects the strong commitment at UNC to provide the highest level of care for individuals with Parkinson's disease and related disorders.

Basic and clinical neuroscience research related to Parkinson's disease also is flourishing at UNC. Dr. William Snider, professor and director of UNC's Neuroscience Center since 2000, is the principal investigator for a center grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) that supports molecular, genetic, and high-resolution imaging approaches in neuroscience research.

Dr. Richard Mailman, a professor and director of the Division of Psychobiology and Research in UNC's Department of Psychiatry, leads the basic research initiative in Parkinson disease. Mailman is recognized as a pioneer in the therapeutic development of D1 dopamine agonists, one of the most promising therapeutic directions on the horizon for Parkinson's.

Huang currently has an NIA-funded career development award to investigate the neural circuitry of motor dysfunction in Parkinson disease using functional MRI techniques. She and Dr. J. Douglas Mann, a professor in the Department of Neurology, have been awarded an NIH planning grant to evaluate the use of Korean acupuncture to treat Parkinson patients.

Tröster, a native of Austria, is a member of the National Institutes of Health Workgroup on Cognition and Emotion in Parkinson disease and the Congress of Neurosurgeons/Movement Disorder Society Consensus Group on Deep Brain Stimulation. He was recruited to UNC in 2003, where he is continuing ongoing collaborative research into the neurobehavioral outcomes of deep brain stimulation (DBS) and the mechanisms underlying language changes observed with DBS, in conjunction with Murrow, which lead the patients are better selected for DBS Kaufer previously worked in the Center for Excellence for Parkinson disease at the University of Pittsburgh. He was recruited to UNC in 2003 and his primary research interest is in the overlap between Alzheimer's and Parkinson disease, where he will apply genetic and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods to improve clinical differential diagnosis.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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