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Parkinson’s disease

We are conducting research to help understand the causes of Parkinson’s disease (PD) and to help establish the next generation of brain imaging, which will be vital for monitoring progression and evaluating new treatments. We are using synaptic density and dopamine transporter imaging. We are also interested in the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease such as depression, anxiety and sleep disturbance. The ultimate goal of our research is to inform new treatments that alleviate the symptoms and improve quality of life in those living with Parkinson’s disease.

Frontotemporal dementia

This project uses synaptic density imaging to study behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD). This radiotracer binds to a protein in synapses and is the first to provide synaptic measurements in living people, which is centrally important in bvFTD based upon strong supporting evidence from animal models, genetic research and post-mortem studies. By studying this tracer and comparing it to a known biomarker, 18F-FDG, this study could be the first step to a better measure of early detection and progression in bvFTD.

Essential tremor

Despite being one of the most common and widespread neurological diseases, the etiology of essential tremor (ET) is only partially understood. Clinical evidence, however, points to the cerebellum as an origin of the disease. Synaptic density imaging will be used as an in vivo biomarker to quantify synaptic density loss in ET and has the potential to be a reliable and diagnostically useful marker of ET progression.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

At present, the neuropathology of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is poorly understood at the molecular level and this study investigates glutamate receptor (mGluR5) density, a putative mechanism for autistic dysfunction, with strong supporting evidence from animal models, genetic research, post-mortem studies, and related single-gene disorders. By relating this information to a detailed assessment of social- communicative dysfunction, this research will provide the first data supporting inference of mechanistic dysfunction from the molecular level to neural systems to clinical behavior. This is a critical objective as there are no clinical ASD biomarkers and because there are extant medications to regulate glutamate receptors, an understanding of mGluR5 differences in ASD has important and direct implications for treatment.

Opioid use disorder

Kappa opioid receptors are among the most abundant opioid receptors in the brain with widespread distribution, including in areas implicated in reward, stress, and cognition. This is particularly relevant in opioid use disorder (OUD) as it has been hypothesized to result from a weakened reward system. In parallel, there is a recruitment and a strengthening of “anti-reward” / stress systems, partially mediated by kappa opioid receptors. We are studying this system to understand the influence in OUD as a potential for new and improved treatment options.

Genetic Carfentanil PET Study

Research suggests there is a genetic change in opioid receptors that plays a unique role among people of African descent. As part of this, persons carrying this genetic change could have differences in the brain that might increase the need for higher doses of opioids in the treatment of either pain or opiate use disorder. Being able to confirm these differences will help current efforts aiming to personalize medicine in African Americans and decrease health disparities.

Starting soon

  • Imaging of Synaptic Density in experienced meditators
  • Imaging of Synaptic Density in Huntington’s disease
  • Next generation GABA PET Tracers
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis