GRA names Emory Parkinson's researcher a Distinguished Investigator

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Feb. 9, 2012

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Jennifer Johnson
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jennifer.johnson@emory.edu

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Gary W. Miller, PhD

Photo credit: Bryan Meltz, Emory University

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ATLANTA--The Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) has named Gary W. Miller, PhD, associate dean for research and professor of environmental health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, a 2012 Distinguished Investigator. The GRA has named only six Distinguished Investigators in its 22-year history.

The distinguished investigator program supports scientists who are considered rising stars in their fields of study. The research award encourages universities to retain outstanding talent and invest in the infrastructure and technology needed to advance research toward commercialization.

“We initiate programs that display promise,” says Susan Shows, GRA senior vice president. The Distinguished Investigator designation is a strategic partnership to cultivate a researcher who is of major value to the missions of their university as well as the state of Georgia.”

The $500,000, five-year investment from GRA encourages key stakeholders from academia and industry to advance discovery that positions Georgia as a leading state for science- and technology- based economic development. By nominating Miller for the award and matching GRA’s investment, Emory raises its profile as a leader in emerging technologies in vaccines and therapeutics.

“Dr. Miller’s research in environmental and genetic factors involved in neurological diseases, in particular Parkinson’s disease, is cutting edge and is opening new insights into therapeutic strategies for these conditions,” says David Stephens, PhD, vice president for research in Emory’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center.

Miller is widely recognized for his research on the impact of toxins in Parkinson’s disease (PD) and has created a unique mouse model of the disease to develop biomarkers of exposure, risk and early disease.  He also is using the mouse model to test whether a novel therapeutic agent can restore function to damaged systems. 

PD occurs when the brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine begin to waste away, for reasons unknown. Without sufficient dopamine, the nerve cells cannot properly send messages, leading to loss of muscle function.

With the GRA endowment, Miller will be able to secure a high-content imaging system to screen a large library of chemicals. The goal is to identify compounds that will protect the brain and even restore motor and non-motor functions in Parkinson’s patients.

“It would be great to improve the storage and transport of dopamine for PD therapies, but we’ll be just as excited to find compounds to be used in treating addiction, depression or other disorders,” says Miller. “The GRA support will help accelerate our drug discovery activities aimed at benefitting patients and hopefully have a positive economic impact on the research community in Georgia.”

Writer: Tarvis Thompson-Pace