Dr. Ralph L. Sacco Named President-Elect of American Academy of Neurology

Adding to an already illustrious list of awards and accomplishments, Ralph L. Sacco, M.D., M.S., professor and Chairman of Neurology and Olemberg Family Chair of Neurological Disorders, has been named President-Elect of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN). Sacco was unanimously elected to the two-year position during the AAN’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., on April 20.

In this position, which takes effect immediately, Sacco will help lead the world’s largest professional association of neurologists with 28,000 U.S. and international members. He will be responsible for appointing hundreds of academy members to leadership activities, attending numerous committee meetings, and shaping the future of neurological care, education, and research on behalf of the AAN. Following two years as President-Elect, Sacco will become President in 2017-19, followed by two years as the immediate Past President.

“I am extremely honored to be selected to this national position,” said Sacco. “With nearly 50 million people in the U.S. with neurological disorders, it is critical that we continue to promote the highest quality care, expand our patient care teams, and broaden the scope of the practice of neurology to include prevention, intervention and recovery.”

Robert C. Griggs, M.D., Past President of the AAN, said Sacco was elected because he has a superb vision for the academy. “Clearly, he is an outstanding leader who already had vast experience in academy activities and was equally skilled in the practice and research of neurology.”

Sacco is an internationally renowned neurologist and professor of public health sciences, human genetics and neurological surgery. He has published extensively in the areas of stroke prevention, treatment, risk factors, outcomes, disparities, and genetics and is also Chief of the Neurology Service at Jackson Memorial Hospital. A leading author of numerous evidence-based neurologic and cardiac guidelines, Sacco has received the Feinberg Award for Excellence in Clinical Stroke from the American Heart Association (AHA) and in 2010-11 was the first neurologist to serve as the national President of the AHA.

“This is yet more national recognition of the leadership and expertise that Ralph Sacco brings to the field of neurology,” said Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School of Medicine and CEO of UHealth. “We are privileged to have him leading our clinical and scientific discoveries made here at UHealth.”

Top UM Neurologist Honored with Provost’s Award for Scholarly Activity

Ralph L. Sacco, M.D., M.S., professor and Chair of Neurology and the Olemberg Family Chair in Neurological Disorders, was one of this year’s recipients of the University of Miami’s coveted 2015 Provost’s Award for Scholarly Activity.

UM Executive Vice President and Provost Thomas J. LeBlanc presented the awards at a ceremony Friday on the Coral Gables campus.
“Today we recognize and celebrate the scholarly promise and achievement of our faculty,” LeBlanc said. The award recognizes demonstrated excellence in research by either a single unique achievement or several years of scholarly productivity.

“I am very grateful to the Provost and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine for being selected for this award and supported to continue our research,” said Sacco, a world-renowned expert on strokes and stroke prevention. “I accept it on behalf of the entire team of investigators and trainees in Miami and New York who have helped make contributions to our understanding of the causes, consequences, and treatments for stroke. I am also privileged to continue to collaborate with so many great people.”

As Sacco was traveling and unable to attend the ceremony, Tatjana Rundek, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurology and Vice Chair for Clinical Translational Research, accepted the award on his behalf. Rundek has been working with Sacco for almost 20 years.

Described by Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt as “one of the giants of the University of Miami in terms of the quality of his scholarship and the impact of his work,” Sacco’s groundbreaking work on the incidence of stroke and the identification of risk factors in multiethnic regions has advanced prevention and stroke care in diverse populations.

As a principal investigator, Sacco has been continuously supported by the National Institutes of Health since 1993, with nearly $40 million in research funding awarded over that period. He has published 476 peer-reviewed scientific articles in high-impact journals, along with several hundred abstracts in supplements to major journals. Sacco has served on multiple committees, study sections, and task forces for the NIH, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Food and Drug Administration, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the Institute of Medicine. He has been an invited participant in a number of high-level meetings at the United Nations and, in 2010-11, had the distinction of being the first neurologist to serve as president of the American Heart Association. He is currently the President-elect of the American Academy of Neurology.

Kenneth Voss, Ph.D., professor of physics in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Martin Grosell, Ph.D., Maytag Professor and Chair of the Department of Marine Biology and Ecology at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, were also honored with the award.

Grosell, participating in NOAA’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) on the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and a group of other scientists discovered that the overall swimming performance of juvenile mahi-mahi exposed to crude from the spill decreased by 37 percent. His team’s groundbreaking findings, published in Environmental Science and Technology and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed that even a relatively brief, low-level exposure to oil of the kind released by the spill harms the swimming capabilities of mahi-mahi and likely other large pelagic fish during their early life stages.

Voss has an international reputation in the field of environmental optics established through his leadership in developing new instrumentation for measuring different aspects of the light field in the ocean and atmosphere. Most recently, his research has focused on the design, development, and deployment of automated, optical observation buoys.

The ceremony also honored the recipients of the 2015 Provost’s Research Awards. Classified into three categories based on discipline—the Max Orovitz Research Awards in the Arts and Humanities, the James W. McLamore Research Awards in Business and the Social Sciences, and the Research Awards in the Natural Sciences and Engineering—the Provost’s Research Awards provide salary support and direct research costs to faculty.

Dr. Philip D. Harvey Makes Presentation on Memory at the Vatican

Philip D. Harvey, Ph.D., Leonard M. Miller Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Miller School, made a presentation at an International Conference on Memory in the Diseased Brain held at Vatican City. The gathering of international memory experts was held under the auspices of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and was focused on examining what occurs when memory fails as part of aging and in severe psychiatric disorders.

Harvey, who is Director of the Division of Psychology, presented a lecture on “Memory and Cognitive Dysfunction in Schizophrenia.” He was one of just two Americans invited to speak at the conference held January 27. The other was Eric R. Kandel, M.D., Co-Director of the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University and 2000 winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

An author of four books on psychological assessment, schizophrenia, and aging, Harvey has received a number of awards, including the Inaugural Schizophrenia International Research Society Clinical Scientist Distinguished Contributions award in 2012, the 2014 Alexander Gralnick Schizophrenia Research award from the American Psychiatric Foundation, and the 2014 Department of Veterans Affairs John Blair Barnwell award.

Harvey’s research has focused on cognition and functioning, especially as they relate to aging in schizophrenia. He specializes in cognition, severe mental illness and neuropsychiatric conditions, including traumatic brain injury, dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Being invited to this international conference was an honor,” said Harvey. “By exchanging ideas about the latest research on causes and treatments for memory disorders, we are able to advance the field and better understand how to help the millions of people affected by disorders of memory.”

Miller School Investigators Receive Grant Awards for Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment

The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine has been awarded more than $900,000 in grant awards from the Florida Department of Health to be used for projects supporting research leading to the prevention or cure of Alzheimer’s disease.

“On behalf of all University of Miami School of Medicine investigators, we would like to thank the Ed and Ethel Moore Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program for its support,” said David Loewenstein, Ph.D., Carlos Moraes, Ph.D., and Claes Wahlestedt, M.D., Ph.D., in a combined statement.

“This funding will support our work in identifying the earliest manifestations of Alzheimer’s disease through novel cognitive and neuroimaging modalities. We will also examine basic aspects of the disease through discovery of molecular biomarkers, studies of gene expression and possible drug treatments to address critical aspects of patient care.”

The grant awards are the result of the new $3 million initiative passed during the 2014 legislature and signed into law by Governor Rick Scott. Funding is provided through the Ed and Ethel Moore Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program that supports research for better prevention, diagnoses, treatments and cures for Alzheimer’s disease.

“Today is a great victory for the individuals and their families who are battling this terrible disease,” said Gov. Scott. “With our $3 million investment in Alzheimer’s prevention and treatment research, the awarded organizations can begin to provide hope for the many individuals and their families whose lives are affected by Alzheimer’s. We look forward to seeing the success of these projects and will continue to focus on enhancing Florida’s developing research community.”

Wahlestedt, with Claude-Henry Volmar, Ph.D., and other colleagues at the Center for Therapeutic Innovation, will use the state funding to advance a project with unique new drug molecules that have already shown great promise in a variety of cell and animal models for Alzheimer’s disease. The objective is to identify an optimized drug candidate that will eventually be used in a clinical trial in human patients.

“The project builds upon a so-called epigenetic approach where a single drug would simultaneously affect the expression of a number of defined Alzheimer’s disease-related drug targets. This should be advantageous over conventional drug therapies, which involve affecting a single drug target — arguably an oversimplified strategy that has unfortunately failed repeatedly in a wide range of clinical trials,” said Wahlestedt, Leonard M. Miller Professor, Associate Dean for Therapeutic Innovation, Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Director of the Center for Therapeutic Innovation.

Loewenstein, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and a member of UM Center on Aging faculty, said his team will be leading a four-institution consortium at UM that also includes the University of Florida, Florida International University and Mount Sinai Medical Center. The consortium will determine if sensitive and novel new cognitive measures can detect Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages.

“We will also examine the relationship of these new measures to amyloid burden on PET scans, structural changes on MRI and new MRI water-based measures of inflammation and genetic markers,” said Loewenstein. “This consortium will provide a platform for the use of other Florida institutions in merging complex neuroimaging data, to develop common testing protocols and in building a common database. We believe that this work will help to position us as leaders in earlier diagnoses that will allow for more effective and novel interventions.”

Moraes, professor of neurology and cell biology, and holder of the Esther Lichtenstein Chair in Neurology, said that the Molecular Bioenergetics Laboratory will use unique genetically modified mice to define the role of mitochondrial dysfunction in the development of Alzheimer’s disease pathology. In the last decade, the group has developed mouse models with defects in specific mitochondrial respiratory chain enzymes that are key to the production of energy in the brain.

“Although defects in these enzymes have been reported in brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, the causative role of such defects could not be directly tested. Our lab will combine the genes that cause mitochondrial defects with genes that cause Alzheimer’s pathology in a single mouse and study the consequences to brain pathology,” Moraes said.

Miller Faculty Members Host Film Screening to Raise Alzheimer’s Awareness

To help raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease, the University of Miami Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Neurology and Volunteers of America hosted a screening of the “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” documentary on December 2 at the Regal Cinemas on Miami Beach.

The film chronicles Campbell’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease while on the road for his farewell tour.

The screening was followed by a panel discussion. The film’s director, James Keach, producer Trevor Albert and Miller School of Medicine faculty, led by Ralph L. Sacco, M.D., M.S., professor and Olemberg Chair of Neurology, answered questions about Alzheimer’s research and caregiver support services.

Read more about the film screening >>



NIH Funds ALS Research Consortium Headed by UM Neurologist

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health, have awarded University of Miami Miller School of Medicine neurologist Michael Benatar, M.D., Ph.D., a $6.24 million cooperative agreement award to establish a Rare Diseases Clinical Research Consortium that will study amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and a group of related disorders.

This consortium will be part of the Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network (RDCRN), an initiative of the Office of Rare Diseases Research.

The consortium, which will be called CReATe (Clinical Research in ALS and related disorders for Therapeutic development), includes J. Paul Taylor, M.D., Ph.D., at St. Jude Children’s Hospital, as well as neurologists and scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, University of Kansas Medical Center, University of California San Diego, University of California San Francisco, Duke University, the Medical University of South Carolina and the University of Tübingen in Germany.

Key UM partners in this initiative include Stephan Züchner, M.D., Ph.D., professor and interim Chair of the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Department of Human Genetics, Jacob McCauley, Ph.D., associate professor of human genetics and Associate Director of the Center for Genome Technology at the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics, Evadnie Rampersaud, Ph.D., research assistant professor of human genetics and Director of the Division of Genetic Epidemiology at the Hussman Institute, Rebecca Schüle, M.D., Joanne Wuu, Sc.M., research assistant professor of neurology, Zane Zeier, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and Claes Wahlestedt, M.D., Ph.D., Vice Chair for Research, Leonard M. Miller Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Associate Dean for Therapeutic Innovation, and Director of the Center for Therapeutic Innovation.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative
disease that attacks the motor nerves, leading to progressive muscle weakness. There is no effective therapy for ALS and the lifespan for those affected is typically only three to five years.

Operating under the five-year cooperative agreement award, the CReATe consortium will carefully evaluate the relationship between phenotype and genotype in this group of motor neuron and related disorders, search for novel genetic causes of disease, identify genetic modifiers, and advance development of biomarkers that may aid therapy development. In addition, the consortium has the goal of training and mentoring fellows and junior faculty in clinical research related to ALS and related disorders.

“Funding for CReATe as part of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences’ Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network provides a unique opportunity to advance clinical and translational research in the area of ALS and related disorders,” said Benatar, who is Chief of the Neuromuscular Division and the Walter Bradley Chair in ALS Research. “We are particularly excited about the seamlessly translational nature of this consortium in which neurologists, geneticists and other scientists have joined forces to advance scientific progress toward effective therapies for this devastating group of diseases.”

A special and important aspect of CReATe is its partnership with a number of organizations that represent patients afflicted with this group of rare diseases. These include the ALS Association, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the ALS Recovery Fund, the Spastic Paraplegia Foundation, the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration, and the National ALS Registry and PatientsLikeMe.

Benatar said, “Clinical and translational research is motivated by the needs of patients and can only succeed if predicated upon genuine partnerships with patients and patient advocacy groups. Herein lies a unique underpinning of the CReATe consortium.”

Alberto Ramos, M.D., M.S.P.H. featured speaker at the 2014 Florida Society of Neurology Annual Meeting in Orlando

Alberto Ramos, M.D., M.S.P.H., assistant professor of clinical neurology and Co-Director of the Sleep Disorders Program, was a featured speaker at the 2014 Florida Society of Neurology Annual Meeting in Orlando. In his presentation, titled “Clinical Research in Sleep Disorders,” Ramos discussed recent basic, epidemiologic and clinical research in sleep medicine, how these concepts apply to cerebrovascular disease and dementia, and diagnostic and treatment strategies for patients with sleep disordered breathing and sleep deprivation. At the event, he also participated in an Advances in Neurology roundtable.

University of Miami Researchers Receive $12.6 Million NIH Grant to Study Genetics of Alzheimer’s Disease

Researchers from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics are part of a five-university collaboration receiving a $12.6 million, four-year grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to identify rare genetic variants that may either protect against, or contribute to Alzheimer’s disease risk.

At the University of Miami, the Consortium for Alzheimer’s Sequence Analysis (CASA) is led by Margaret A. Pericak-Vance, Ph.D., Director of the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics and the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Professor of Human Genomics, who is one of the principal investigators of the study. Other University of Miami investigators include Eden Martin, Ph.D., professor of human genetics and public health sciences; Gary Beecham, Ph.D., assistant professor of human genetics; Michael Schmidt, Ph.D., research assistant professor of human genetics; Jeffery M. Vance, M.D., Ph.D., professor of human genetics and neurology; Brian Kunkle, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow; Kara Hamilton, Research Support Project Manager; and James Jaworski, Research Support Project Manager.

CASA investigators will analyze whole exome and whole genome sequence data generated during the first phase of the NIH Alzheimer’s Disease Sequencing Program, an innovative collaboration that began in 2012 between NIA and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), also part of NIH. They will analyze data from 6,000 volunteers with Alzheimer’s disease and 5,000 older individuals who did not have the disease. In addition, they will study genomic data from 111 large families with multiple Alzheimer’s disease members, mostly of Caucasian and Caribbean Hispanic descent to identify rare genetic variants.

“There is a critical need for us to refine the genetic landscape of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Pericak-Vance. “By identifying additional genes that increase a person’s risk or that protect one from getting Alzheimer’s disease, CASAwill contribute to developing therapeutic targets that can reduce the burden to patients and families caused by this devastating disease. This landmark study is only now possible because of the technological advances that have been made over the past decade and the willingness of so many hard working researchers.”

Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, has become an epidemic that currently affects as many as five million people age 65 and older in the United States, with economic costs that are comparable to, if not greater than, caring for those with heart disease or cancer. Available drugs only marginally affect disease severity and progression. While there is no way to prevent this disease, the discovery of genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s is bringing researchers closer to learning how the genes work together and may help identify the most effective interventions.

This effort is critical to accomplishing the genetic research goals outlined in the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, first announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in May 2012 and updated annually. Developed under the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, the Plan provides a framework for a coordinated and concentrated effort in research, care, and services for Alzheimer’s and related dementias. Its primary research goal is to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.

With the current award, CASA joins the NHGRI Large-Scale Sequencing and Analysis Centers program, an NIH-supported consortium that provides large-scale sequence datasets and analysis to the biomedical community. CASAresearchers will facilitate the analyses of all Alzheimer’s Disease Sequencing Project (ADSP) and additional non-ADSP sequence data to detect protective and risk variants for Alzheimer’s disease.

“We are delighted to support the important research being accomplished under this broad-based, collaborative effort. A team effort is vital to advancing a deeper understanding of the genetic variants involved in this complex and devastating disease and to the shared goal of finding targets for effective interventions,” said NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

“At a time when fellow humans are living longer, it is critical to improve our understanding of the human brain and of the chronic neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and monopolar depression, with the aim of sheltering susceptible individuals from such devastating conditions,” said Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and CEO of the University of Miami Health System. “At the same time, the spectra of complex brain development anomalies, as in autism, seem to become more prevalent. This research initiative will go a long way in helping scientists and doctors understand, prevent, diagnose and resolve such brain anomalies.

“We are proud at the Miller School of Medicine to take part in such an important initiative, with our John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics and all of our scientists and physicians who are collectively providing exceptional expertise to this project on the human brain, in full collaboration with the other institutes and medical schools that have been selected. It is a great day for science and medicine.”

CASA is a collaboration of the University of Miami and four other American universities. Jonathan Haines, Ph.D., will lead the project at Case Western Reserve University, Richard Mayeux, M.D., at Columbia University, Gerard D. Schellenberg, Ph.D., at the University of Pennsylvania, and Lindsay Farrar, Ph.D., at Boston University.

This research is supported by the NIA grant UF1-AG047133.

The Interdisciplinary UM Memory Program 

The UM Memory Program is a new and exciting joint collaboration between the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Department of Neurology and Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. The program’s co-directors are Clinton Wright, MD and Elizabeth Crocco, MD. They are joined by Dr. Barry Baumel as the attending physicians at the UM Memory Program.

“We are committed to leadership in the field of memory disorders,” said Ralph L. Sacco, MD, Chairman of Neurology, Olemberg Family Chair in Neurological Disorders, Professor of Neurology, Epidemiology, and Human Genetics at the Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami. “Our directors bring exceptional clinical and research experiences to their roles in this exciting new program.”

Our program is funded in part by the State of Florida Department of Elder Affairs Alzheimer Disease Initiative. Additionally, our research program is supported in part by the UM Evelyn F. McKnight Institute.

Wright is Associate Professor of Neurology and Scientific Director of the Evelyn McKnight Brain Institute. Crocco is Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Chief, Division of Geriatric Psychiatry. Baumel is Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology, and was co-founder of the Baumel-Eisner Institute, a South Florida neurological research center.


University of Miami opens South Florida’s First Brain Fitness Pavilion

The Pavilion, directed by Dr. Philip D. Harvey and Dr. Sara J. Czaja, faculty at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, offers state-of-the art, comprehensive cognitive programs, including neuropsychological assessments, assessments of everyday living skills and a customized brain fitness training program especially tailored for YOU.

Administered by trained and certified healthcare professionals, the brain fitness training program will help improve memory, concentration, attention, and mental speed. BrainHQ, an online brain training program designed by Posit Science and the only cognitive remediation intervention being considered by the FDA for clearance as a medical device, will be used at the Pavilion.

Your personalized program, which involves performing structured exercises such as remembering words and sorting objects, includes two 45-minute sessions a week at the Pavilion, as well as home exercises.

Call us now for an appointment and fee schedule
Phone Number: (305) 355-9080
Location: 1695 NW 9th Ave, Suite 3202, Miami FL 33136

Brain Fitness Pavilion Flyer (PDF)