Yale School of Medicine Focuses Top Scientists on Neurodegenerative Diseases

Pietro de Camilli and Stephen Strittmatter

Yale School of Medicine, accelerating the pace of research on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, today announced the launch of an interdepartmental program in Cellular Neuroscience, Neurodegeneration and Repair (CNNR).

Co-directors Pietro de Camilli, M.D., Eugene Higgins Professor of Cell Biology, and Stephen Strittmatter, M.D., Vincent Coates Professor of Neurology, will head the program. They will recruit as many as seven new scientists in a variety of disciplines to join them at CNNR and create a core to interconnect the more than 100 neuroscientists who now work across the Yale campus.

Yale has a long tradition of excellence in the neurosciences through the Departments of Neurobiology, Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Pharmacology, Cell Biology, Psychiatry, the Child Study Center, Neurosurgery, Neurology and others. The CNNR is designed to foster cutting-edge basic research on cellular and molecular neuroscience and research into neurodegeneration and repair. Its goal is to produce rapid translation of scientific insights into practical therapeutic strategies to prevent or delay neuronal loss, as well as therapies for neural repair and restoration of function.

“I am very excited about this new neuroscience initiative addressing the basic mechanisms of brain function together with a number of devastating neurological diseases,” said School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern, M.D. “The success of the program is ensured by the extraordinary quality of its two leaders, both of whom have performed ground-breaking research in this arena.”

De Camilli’s pioneering work on synaptic vesicles, the cellular packets that deliver neurotransmitters into the junction between nerve cells, is bringing new understanding of normal brain functions. It is also giving insights into the mechanisms responsible for diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s, a polyglutamine-expansion disease.

De Camilli said the new program will foster research on molecular and cellular aspects of nervous system function in health and disease at Yale. The priority at Yale will be to develop new knowledge about neurodegenerative diseases that are due to genetic abnormalities, aging and/or various environmental influences.

“The creation of a program focused both on the cell biology of the nervous system and on its diseases recognizes that innovative research on pathogenetic mechanisms can best thrive in an environment where basic science research is very strong,” said De Camilli. “I am delighted to start this new initiative with Dr. Steve Strittmatter, who has already been very successful in bridging fundamental neuroscience with clinically important problems. Steve and I are looking forward to developing this new program in close coordination with existing departments, the Department of Neurobiology in particular.”

Strittmatter identified Nogo, a protein that blocks the regeneration of axons. Research on this important regulator has opened promising new avenues for therapies to repair the adult nervous system after injury and has opened the possibilities of effective treatments one day for spinal cord injuries, stroke and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and multiple sclerosis.

“Establishing a hub for cellular and molecular studies in neuroscience with interdisciplinary and interdepartmental connection holds great promise for many major research advances by Yale neuroscience,” said Strittmatter.

“I am convinced that this program will illuminate our understanding of how nerve cells function and communicate in the brain, especially as they relate to the development of novel therapeutic approaches to neurodegenerative diseases such as neural repair,” he said.

Pasko Rakic, M.D., Dorys McConnell Duberg Professor of Neuroscience and chair of the Department of Neurobiology, said the decision to focus on neurodegeneration, neural repair, and the neuronal basis of cognitive function and dysfunction, was an outcome of the many meetings and deliberations of the Basic Science Research Strategic Planning Committee. Dr. Rakic also directs the Kavli Institute for Neuroscience at Yale of which Drs. De Camilli and Strittmatter are also members.

“Research on neurodegeneration and brain repair is one of the most difficult and most noble goals of neuroscience,” Rakic said. “Modern research methods will allow new advances. We are all excited about the prospect of entering this important and fast growing area of biomedical research.”

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