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Neurodegenerative Disorders Research Group

The Challenge

Neurodegenerative disorders affect millions of people in the U.S. and lack effective treatment. They result in loss of cognitive abilities, movement or muscle strength, and significantly affect patients and their families.

These disorders include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease)
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Rarer disorders such as Fronto-temporal Dementia, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, Spinocerebellar ataxia and others

We need to provide comprehensive care and support to patients and their families, and to promote research. Specific challenges include:

  • Improving diagnostic capability, particularly early diagnosis
  • Developing tools to measure changes accurately over time
  • Understanding more about mechanisms of disease
  • Developing new treatments aimed at slowing progression or preventing these disorders

Because neurodegenerative disorders share features, such as aggregation of proteins and degeneration of vulnerable populations of nerve cells, advances in one of these disorders can carry over to impact others.

The Innovation

Our goals are to:

  • Provide comprehensive diagnostic evaluation and care for patients. This will include a multidisciplinary focus, high level of clinical expertise, and use of state-of the-art diagnostic methods.
  • Develop a biobank – a set of brain images, blood and DNA samples, and cerebrospinal fluid samples from people with these disorders.
    • This will support clinical and biomarker research, to provide laboratory tools to assist in diagnosis and in following effects of treatment.
    • Patients who participate will be followed and given the opportunity to participate in a brain autopsy program, to expand our bank of human brain tissue for research.
  • Conduct innovative translational research. Cross-talk between basic and clinical researchers can lead to new treatment opportunities.
    • We aim to build on existing clinical trial capability and infrastructure to take advantage of new opportunities for treatment of specific degenerative disorders.
  • Train clinicians and scientists to meet the challenges. Fellowship and other training programs will help to enlarge the cadre of investigators who can apply new advances rapidly.


UC San Diego and nearby institutions have an extraordinary depth of research expertise in Alzheimer’s disease, including the NIH-funded Shiley-Marcos Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS) and a large community of basic researchers.

Other research strengths include the Huntington’s Disease Center of Excellence, and strong basic and translational research in Parkinson’s disease and ALS.

We have particular clinical research strengths in neuropsychology, brain imaging, biomarkers and clinical trials. Basic researchers cover many areas, including mechanisms and models of disease.

Increased coordination of efforts among basic researchers will help us develop new approaches to treatment with the goal of translating them into interventions for patients.

Patient Care

We need to expand clinical care capacity to cover the neurodegenerative disorders comprehensively. Increasing clinic capacity for Parkinson's and ALS are high priorities.


Medical students and residents need to have greater coordination of rotations and elective opportunities with subspecialty clinics for patients with neurodegenerative disorders.

There are strong graduate training research opportunities. Fellowship and physician-scientist training needs to expand as we develop greater strength in areas such as Parkinson's or ALS.