With a $9.2 million award, the University of Rochester has been selected as a Morris K. Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson’s Disease Research by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The funds bring together researchers from industry and multiple academic institutions to focus on the development of digital tools to enhance understanding of the disease, engage broad populations in research, and accelerate the development of new treatments for Parkinson’s disease. UR’s Medical Center is one of eight centers nationwide to participate in the program.

“We are currently in the midst of a Parkinson’s pandemic,” said URMC neurologist Ray Dorsey, M.D., director of the Center for Health + Technology (CHeT) and principal investigator at the new UR Udall Center.  “From 1990 to 2015, the number of individuals with Parkinson’s disease globally has doubled and absent change will double again in the coming generation. The status quo is not working.

“The medical community must develop new approaches to better understand this complex disease, expand access to specialized care, and increase the speed and efficiency in how we bring new treatments to the market.”

CHeT is an academic-based research organization with decades of experience working with industry, foundations, and government researchers in bringing new therapies to market for neurological disorders. Over the last 25 years, CHeT has helped conduct pivotal trials leading to seven FDA-approved treatments, including four for Parkinson’s disease. CHeT has also been identified as one of the flagship research programs working with the URMC Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience.

The designation comes on the heels of a new report out this week in the journal Lancet Neurology which details growing global burden of Parkinson’s. The study shows that the number of individuals with Parkinson disease globally has more than doubled over the last three decades and that the rates of the disease, adjusted for age, are increasing significantly in almost every region of the world. Dorsey and Alexis Elbaz, M.D., Ph.D. with the French Institute of Health and Medical Research Paris, were the lead authors of the study, which was supported with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The UR Udall Center will undertake research using mobile technologies such as smartphones, wearable sensors and telemedicine to expand the reach of research and to develop objective measures of the disease in real-world settings. Experts from industry and academia with knowledge of Parkinson’s, genetic testing, engineering, biostatistics, and computer science will work together.

The NINDS Parkinson’s Disease Research Centers of Excellence program was developed in honor of former Congressman Morris K. Udall of Arizona, who suffered Parkinson’s disease.