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.