PNR&D Scientists Present at ADA

Four scientists from the Program for Neurology Research & Discovery presented their work at the 2015 American Diabetes Association’s Scientific Sessions, held June 5-9 in Boston.

In addition, two former PNR&D researchers presented at the meeting.

“The ADA is an excellent opportunity for our researchers to present their remarkable work,” said PNR&D Director Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D. “In one session we had three of the six speakers. It was good day for the program and our science.”

The papers presented by PNR&D scientists at the ADA meeting included:

  • Rodica Pop-Busui: “Cardiovascular Autonomic Neuropathy in Pima Indians with Diabetic Kidney Disease (DKD)
  • Rodica Pop-Busui: “Cardiovascular Autonomic Neuropathy and Coronary Artery Calcium in Type 1 Diabetes: The CACTI Study”
  • Meeyoung Park: “Identification of a Tissue-specific Effect of Pioglitazone Treatment on Gene Expression Profiles in a Murine Model of Type 2 Diabetes”
  • Phillipe O’Brien: “Effect of Dietary Reversal on Peripheral Nerve Function in Prediabetic C57BL6 Mice”
  •  Mamta Jaiswal: “Burden of Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy among Pima Indians”

Scientists presenting who previously worked at PNR&D included:

  • Junguk Hur, Ph.D.: “Shared Transcriptional Networks between Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy and Nephropathy in Murine Models of Diabetes”
  • Tatsu Himeno – “Decrease of Neuronal Progenitor/Stem Cells in Dorsal Root Ganglia of Diabetic Mice”

A. Alfred Taubman, 1924-2015

AAT-StampOption4The scientists of the Program for Neurology Research and Discovery pay tribute to our generous benefactor, A. Alfred Taubman, whose vision and generosity have paved the way for new discoveries aimed at alleviating the suffering of millions.

Mr. Taubman has long supported the research mission of the Program, which is focused on translating laboratory discoveries into new patient therapies for such devastating diseases as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer’s disease, and the nerve complications of diabetes.

Thank you, Mr. Taubman. You will be missed, but your vision lives on.

PNR&D Receives $1.2M for its role in largest-ever diabetic neuropathy study

The Program for Neurology Research & Discovery will receive $1.2 million over six years from the Norvo Nordisk Foundation, as part of a larger study to understand diabetic neuropathy in American and European populations.

Block MThe funds are part of an overall grant of 60 million Danish Kroner ($9 million) that will establish the International Diabetic Neuropathy Consortium (IDNC) of researchers in the U.S., Denmark and England. Diabetic neuropathy afflicts about half of diabetes patients. It is characterized by extreme pain in the feet, and is one of the leading causes of diabetes-related hospital admissions and amputations.

Researchers from the University of Michigan, the Odense University Hospital in Denmark, and Oxford University in the United Kingdom will work together on the study, the largest ever to investigate the mechanisms of diabetic neuropathy, or nerve pain. The grant’s lead investigator is Troels Jensen, a Clinical Professor in the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University.

“We are so fortunate to receive funding for this important work,” said PNR&D Director Eva L. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D. “Diabetes has reached epidemic levels in the United States and Europe, and by combining the brainpower and resources of these three major research institutions, we have a real chance of getting to the bottom of this excruciating condition that affects so many diabetes patients. We’re thankful to Novo Nordisk and Dr. Jensen for this opportunity.”

Dr. Feldman will travel to Denmark in May 2015 to help launch the IDNC initiative.

It is estimated that 26 million Americans and 60 million Europeans suffer from diabetes, and both numbers are expected to climb in the coming years.

Researchers hope to combine data from clinical studies, basic research and registry studies, so they can eventually assess an individual patient’s risk of developing diabetic neuropathy. Such early detection will allow physicians to treat the affliction more effectively.

Researchers in Dr. Feldman’s lab are focused on the following:

·      Understanding how changes in blood glucose and lipids (blood fats) that result during diabetes damage nerves.
·      Using nerve cells grown in a petri dish and treated with high glucose and lipids to discover new drugs to treat nerve damage.
·      Determining the changes in DNA, RNA and protein from nerves in animals and patients affected with diabetes to uncover the cause of nerve damage. This will point the way to new treatments to protect and nourish the nerves under attack.
·      PNR&D researchers are also studying the relationship of obesity, insulin resistance and Alzheimer’s disease, and links between diabetes and dementia.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation gave DKK240 in 2014 for four separate studies on the prevention of diabetes and obesity, and the complications of diabetes.

Eva Feldman elected to prestigious Institute of Medicine


Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D.

Eva L. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., the Russell N. DeJong Professor of Neurology at the Medical School and director of the Program for Neurology Research and Discovery, has been elected to the prestigious Institute of Medicine, one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine.

Dr. Feldman, who is also director of the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute, is an internationally renowned expert in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.  She has devoted her career to finding new therapies and treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, and is at the forefront of applying stem cell research to human disease.

“This is truly an incredible honor,” Dr. Feldman said. “But more than anything it validates the hard work and dedication of our research and clinic teams at the University of Michigan. They are second to none, and I am fortunate to work with each and every one of them in our quest to understand and treat these confounding neurological disorders.”

As a clinician-scientist, Dr. Feldman treats patients and also directs the Program for Neurology Research and Discovery (, a laboratory staffed by some 30 scientists who are deciphering the mysteries of conditions ranging from diabetic nerve damage to Alzheimer’s disease. She is director of research for the U-M ALS clinic and is the principal investigator of the first-ever FDA-approved human clinical trial of a stem cell therapy for ALS. The second phase of the trial is complete and Dr. Feldman anticipates moving to a broader test of the therapy in 2015. She has more than 23 years of continuous NIH funding and is currently the principal or co-investigator of five major National Institutes of Health research grants and three private foundation grants as well as the author of more than 300 original peer-reviewed articles, 59 book chapters and three books.

Dr. Feldman counts among her greatest accomplishments the training of both scientists and neurologists. Nine scientists have received their Ph.D. degrees under her supervision, she has trained 50 postdoctoral fellows in her laboratory to become neuroscientists, and 40 neurologists have trained under her to specialize in the understanding and treatment of neuromuscular and neurodegenerative diseases. She has served as the recent president of the American Neurological Association and holds many honors and awards in her field.

Dr. Feldman is one of six University of Michigan experts elected to the IOM this year, bringing to 59 the total of U-M faculty members who have been elected to the IOM. Also elected this year:

  • Gonçalo R. Abecasis, the Felix E. Moore Collegiate Professor of Biostatistics and chair of the Department of Biostatistics at the School of Public Health.
  • Carol R. Bradford, M.D., chair of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the Medical School.
  • Charles J. Krause, M.D., Collegiate Professor of Otolaryngology.
  • Mark Fendrick, M.D., professor of internal medicine at the Medical School and a professor of health management and policy at the School of Public Health.
  • Susan A. Murphy, the H.E. Robbins Distinguished University Professor of Statistics, professor of psychiatry and research professor at the Institute for Social Research.
  • Kathleen M. Potempa, dean and professor at the School of Nursing.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) is an independent, nonprofit organization that works outside of government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to decision makers and the public.  Established in 1970, the IOM is the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, which was chartered under President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Nearly 150 years later, the National Academy of Sciences has expanded into what is collectively known as the National Academies, which comprises the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Research Council, and the IOM.

New members are elected by current active members through a selective process that recognizes individuals who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care, and public health.  A diversity of talent among IOM’s membership is assured by the Institute’s charter, which stipulates that at least one-quarter of the membership is selected from outside the health professions, for example, from such fields as the law, engineering, social sciences, and the humanities.  The newly elected members raise IOM’s total active membership to 1,798 and the number of foreign associates to 128.  With an additional 86 members holding emeritus status, IOM’s total membership is 2,012.


PNRD Lab Tech Tackles Appalachian Trail

UPDATE – May 23, 2015

Sam writes:

Good morning lab!

I just wanted to send a quick update before hopping back on the trail. I recently hiked through the smoky mountains, spent a few zero days hanging out with my family in Asheville, and returned to the AT near Hot Springs NC. Everything’s still going really well!

UPDATE – May 12, 2015

Sam writes:

Hey lab mates!

Yes I am alive indeed and feeling better than I have in a long time.

The journey has been very smooth so far. I’m moving faster than I thought I would, averaging close to 16 miles a day. Six days in I bagged my first state (Georgia), yesterday I completed my first 20+ mile day (23.1 miles, 55,545 steps, 519 flights of stairs according my iHealth app), and tomorrow I enter the Smokies (mile ~170). Besides a few unremarkable blisters, my body’s doing really well.

I hike alone every day, which is interesting to say the least. I have a looooot of time to think, and I’ve also listened to all of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, half of Journey to the Center of the Earth, as well as several albums and podcasts. In fact, if anyone has any audio book recommendations, I’m all ears! At night, I generally stay at a shelter (see picture) with anywhere between 0-8 other people.

Even though I am mostly alone, the social aspect has been really great. Most everyone has a trail name by now. Mine is Fury, I don’t really want to explain why, others include Crash, Octopus, Butter Beard, Happy, and Glider (who I named) just to list a few. Because I move quickly I’ve passed through a few different groups, and now I sort of found one with a similar pace. Currently I’m in Fontana Dam, the last resupply before the 70-mile trek through The Great Smoky Mountains. I’m staying in a decent motel with Octopus and another guy named Lone Ranger who was excommunicated from the Amish community for becoming a bull rider. Really interesting guy.

I’ve had plenty of food and water. There are about six streams a day that I cross and a water source by every shelter. There are some older guys (including Lone Ranger) who are a part of a dwindling club of people who don’t filter their water. Guts of steel! There’s a man, nay a celebrity of the AT, Warren Doyle who’s hiked the Appalachian Trail 17 times, and he’s the leader of the no-filter movement. I think they are a great part of the AT culture, and I’m undoubtedly a little bit jealous, but I don’t want to risk it. I filter, most of the time. I met Warren Doyle a few days ago, he’s got a Santa beard, wears golf shoes, tightens his belt above his massive belly, and doesn’t need even a second to catch his breath while climbing the steepest hills. Legendary.

There’s so much more to say but I just want to let you know I’m safe, healthy, and happy.

Miss you guys!

PNRD Lab Tech Tackles Appalachian Trail

Ann Arbor — Sam Jackson will enter medical school in the fall of 2015, so he wanted to make this summer – most likely his last free one for the forseeable future – worth remembering.

Sam Jackson takes a selfie from high up the Appalachian Trail.

Sam Jackson takes a selfie from high up the Appalachian Trail.

So back in October he hatched a plan and started to prepare. On May 1 he stepped onto the Appalachian Trail for an 81-day, 1,100-mile backpacking adventure. But an epic adventure wasn’t enough for the 25-year-old lab technician. To make the trip both memorable and meaningful, Jackson decided to connect his pursuit of adventure with his passion for diabetes research.

Since 2010, Jackson has studied the causes of diabetes in the University of Michigan’s Program for Neurology Research & Discovery (PNR&D). He’ll spend Summer 2016 in a clinic in India, helping diagnose diabetic neuropathy, or nerve pain.

“I was thinking I have a lot of momentum on diabetes research, and now I’m going to work in the clinic,” he said. “So how can I translate what I’m doing this summer toward my overall goal of studying and helping cure diabetes?”

At the invitation of Dr. Eva Feldman, Jackson will work next summer at the Diabetes Specialities Centre in Chennai, India, in collaboration with the World Health Organization. The 200-bed clinic is one of the world’s largest: It has treated more than 2 million patients to date.

But first things first. Jackson began his trek in Springer Mountain, Georgia. Along the way he’ll hike 10-30 mountainous miles a day, filter stream water for drinking, eat what he can carry and sleep in tents and lean-to structures. All told, he’ll cover more than half of the Appalachian Trail, and will be joined for the final march to Maine’s Mount Katahdin by his twin brother Elliot. In the fall, the Harbor Springs native will start medical school at Central Michigan University.

“I knew that I wanted to travel extensively before medical school, and I knew I would have all summer to do something,” he said. “I used the ‘Goldilocks’ principle” Something that’s in my price range, something that was challenging, but I didn’t have to worry about my survival. Something that I could plan but didn’t have to overly research, something with a water source every day. This felt like it was just right.”

PNR&D Director Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., said Jackson’s presence in the lab will be missed, but that she expects his good work to endure long after he leaves U-M.

“Sam is a remarkable young man with a very bright future as a physician,” Feldman said. “It doesn’t surprise me in the least that he wants to use this opportunity to advance the cause of diabetic research. He has been doing that ever since he started working here.”

To support Sam Jackson’s Hike Against Diabetes, please visit and click on the ‘Make a Gift’ button at the top of the page.

Photo Gallery

Michigan football fans get lesson in ALS research

Michigan football fans got a primer on ALS research Friday when Dr. Eva Feldman joined the Maize and Blue Family Cookout event hosted by radio station WTKA-AM on Friday, October 10.

Dr. Eva Feldman, right, joins WTKA radio hosts Ira Weintraub, left, and Sam Webb, center, during the Maize and Blue Family Cookout on Oct. 10 in Ypsilanti.

Dr. Eva Feldman, right, joins WTKA radio hosts Ira Weintraub, left, and Sam Webb, center, during the Maize and Blue Family Cookout on Oct. 10 in Ypsilanti.

Dr. Feldman, director of the Program for Neurology Research and Discovery and a world-renowned researcher on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, joined radio hosts Sam Webb and Ira Weintraub to discuss ALS research efforts at the University of Michigan.

Webb and Weintraub participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge this summer and held the Maize and Blue Family Cookout in support of the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive ALS Clinic.

“ALS is especially prevalent among members of the military and athletes, and it strikes healthy people in the prime of their lives,” Dr. Feldman said. “So I thought it was important to share our story of hope through research with the University of Michigan football family.”

Dr. Feldman noted during the broadcast that the Ice Bucket Challenge that took place this summer has raised more than $120 million for ALS research, a six-fold increase over previous ALS funding efforts.

The radio show was broadcast live from Cueter Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Ypsilanti and included former University of Michigan football players Jamie Morris, Chris Howard, Marcus Ray and Gerald White.

“I really appreciate the opportunity to reach a new audience,” Dr. Feldman said. “Sam and Ira were gracious hosts and I’m delighted that they’ve taken an interest in ALS research at the University of Michigan. Go Blue!”

Listen to podcast here:

Second phase of ALS stem-cell therapy trial completed

A patient with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, received 16 million stem cells directly to the spinal cord this month in the final leg of the FDA-approved Phase II trial of this novel therapy.

That brings to 30 the number of ALS patients receiving the groundbreaking stem cell implantations over the course of Phases I and II of the trial, which was designed by University of Michigan neurologist Eva L. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D.

The aim of the trial is to show that stem cells can safely be delivered to the spinal cords of patients with neurodegenerative diseases, and it is hoped that the presence of the neural stem cells will slow the progression of ALS symptoms.

The Phase II trial is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and funded by Neuralstem, Inc., the Maryland-based company whose stem-cell product the trial is testing. It seeks to study any effect that injected stem cells might have on motor neurons — muscle-controlling nerve cells that die in ALS patients, eventually robbing them of the ability to walk, speak and breathe.

Feldman, the Russell N. DeJong Professor of Neurology in the U-M Medical School and director of the Program for Neurology Research and Discovery, is the principal investigator for the trial. Feldman serves as an unpaid consultant to the company, and has led the analysis of results from the Phase I trial, which concluded in 2012.  Researchers have reported possible signs that in one subgroup of participants, ALS progression may have been interrupted.

Feldman said she now will begin evaluating patient data from Phase II and preparing the application for a wider Phase IIb trial of the landmark therapy.

“We look forward to seeing what the data tell us about the safety and efficacy of this approach,” said Feldman.  The Phase II trial began in September 2012 with the first surgery taking place at the University of Michigan Health System.  Parag Patil, M.D., Ph.D., and a member of the U-M Medical School faculty, performed the surgeries at U-M.  Other trial sites include Emory University in Atlanta and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

The first 12 patients in the Phase 2 trial received doses of stem cells ranging from five injections of 200,000 cells per injections to 20 injections of 400,000 cells each, all to the cervical region of the spine where the nerves that control breathing reside.  The final three patients underwent two separate surgeries each, with cells being implanted to both the cervical and lumbar (lower) areas of the spinal cord.  Those patients received a total of 40 injections of 400,000 cells per injection for a total of 16 million cells.

For more information on ALS treatment and research at the U-M Health System, visit

Coleman event raises $125K for ALS research

A fundraising event held May 29 in honor of Tom Coleman raised more than $125,000 to support the Program for Neurology Research & Discovery’s stem-cell research on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other neural degenerative diseases.

UL9A1085The event, held at the Back Bay Bistro in Newport Beach, was originally planned for 150 people. But through word-of-mouth it grew to include more than 250 friends and associates of Mr. Coleman, 47, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2013.

The fundraising event, which included a keynote speech by Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., was organized by Tom’s wife Ronnette Coleman, his business partner and co-founder of LC Automotive, Bill Lawrence, both of Costa Mesa, Calif., Mr. Coleman’s sister, Sue Gottschalk of Canton, Mich., and other friends.

“I am deeply touched by the wide support of our industry for Tom, his family and their desire to contribute to the research efforts of Dr. Feldman and the University of Michigan,” Mr. Lawrence said. “While Tom, his family and friends had worked tirelessly on planning this event, all those involved were taken back by not only the number of attendees, but by their generosity.”

Mr. Coleman is one of 30 patients who have received stem-cell injections in a first-of-its-kind clinical trial that has now reached Phase 2. In Phase 1 of the trial, the spinal cords of 15 patients including Mr. Coleman were injected with stem cells to determine whether the procedure was safe for humans. Phase 2 will add an additional 18 patients, each receiving up to 16 million stem cells — to determine the procedure’s efficacy – how well it works.

“It took a big effort from family and friends to pull this event together,” said Tom Coleman. “But our fundraising success would not have been possible without the strong support of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, PPG, LKQ Corp, The Platinum Group, Single Source, Caliber Collision Centers, CCC and many anonymous individual donors. I sincerely thank each of you for your participation and contribution.”

Tom and Ronnette Coleman have acknowledged that the research being done on ALS will not benefit their family directly, but they are committed to helping researchers find a cure for ALS and other neural degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

“I am so grateful to the Colemans and their friends and family who have supported our research at the University of Michigan,” Dr. Feldman said. “For the Colemans this is a profoundly selfless gesture that will hopefully benefit future generations who suffer from ALS and other horrific neurological disorders. The outpouring of support for Tom and Ronnette by their community of friends and associates is truly touching. It is clear that Tom’s impact has been far-reaching.

“It is humbling to see, and it inspires each and every one of us in the lab to never stop searching for a cure.”

PNR&D study links agricultural chemicals to ALS

A study by University of Michigan researchers has shown a link between agricultural chemicals and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a finding that has attracted the federal Centers for Disease Control to fund the study’s expansion.

The association of pesticides and fertilizer exposure to ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, was found in the first 66 ALS patients in the interim analysis of a larger study that will ultimately pair more than 400 ALS patients with an equal number of unafflicted, age-matched participants. The study, which relies on numerous tissue samples from participants, is being conducted by the University of Michigan’s Program for Neurology Research & Discovery, headed by neurologist Eva L. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D.

The results of the first cohort were reported in the paper titled “Environmental Risk Factors and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS): A Case-control Study of ALS in Michigan.” It was published June 30 in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed open-access scientific journal. The interim analysis was based on 66 pairs of age-matched ALS patients and unafflicted controls, and for the first time showed a link between agricultural chemicals and ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“It is far too early to draw conclusions, but the fact that we’ve made this correlation between common agricultural chemicals and ALS for the first time ever is extremely promising,” said Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., the study’s corresponding author. “We need to gather more data, and if these findings hold up we may find a path toward better understanding this mysterious and incurable disease.”

Michigan is known to have “clusters” where the prevalence of ALS is higher than is typically found elsewhere, and researchers are trying to understand why certain people contract ALS while others don’t. The study was designed to compare exposure to a number of chemicals over various time frames between ALS patients and controls. Subjects supplied urine samples so researchers could get a snapshot of chemical exposures in the immediate time frame, and blood samples to determine exposures over 10- and 30-year periods. The study was novel in its use of different exposure periods.

Smoking, occupational exposures to industrial metals, dust and gas, radiation and physical activity were not associated with ALS in the interim analysis. The study is expected to continue into 2015. To participate in the study, contact study coordinator Blake Swihart, at (734) 763-8284 or

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is characterized by the progressive deterioration of large motor neurons that control muscle function. Patients first develop limb weakness, followed by difficulty speaking and swallowing. As the disease progresses, it retards the patient’s ability to breathe. ALS patients typically die within three years of diagnosis. At any given time, about 50,000 people are afflicted with ALS worldwide. Its causes are unknown and there is no cure.

Funding support for the ALS study was provided by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the National Institutes of Health, the University of Michigan MCubed funding program, and the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute.

Lab receives matching gifts for Alzheimer’s research

Groundbreaking research on a devastating neurological disorder – Alzheimer’s disease – will reach the fast track in the Program for Neurology Research & Development this year, thanks to matching $250,000 gifts from the Sinai Medical Staff Foundation and the Richard & Jane Manoogian Foundation.

“I cannot overstate the importance of generous gifts like these in advancing the cause of medical science,” said PNR&D Director Eva L. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D. “Often times the NIH shies away from funding high-risk research despite its potential to yield high rewards. It is crucial that private philanthropy get the ball rolling on this important work, and that is exactly what these two forward-looking foundations have accomplished.”

The gifts, which will be distributed over five years, will support stem-cell work under way in the Program for Neurology Research & Development. Dr. Feldman is well into Phase 2 of a clinical trial that is testing the effectiveness of stem cells in ALS patients. Phase 1 results were published in March and showed that humans tolerated the stem cell injections well. The PNR&D has already begun adapting its ALS stem cell work to learning more about Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 5 million Americans, two-thirds of whom are women, and the emotional toll it exacts on family members and loved ones is immeasurable. The direct cost of caring for sufferers of Alzheimer’s will total $214 billion in 2014, and the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 15.5 million family members and friends provided 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care to dementia patients – care valued at an additional $220 billion.

“We have made tremendous progress in stem-cell research, particularly in the area of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease,” Dr. Feldman said. “Because of what we’ve learned from our human clinical trial for ALS, we are now able to translate those techniques and direct our attention to another devastating neurological disorder: Alzheimer’s.”