Our Researchers

The American Brain Foundation supports world class research on cutting edge projects. Funding research across a broad spectrum of the brain and nervous system is the best hope for curing brain disease as a whole.


Brian Appleby, MD

What we Know: Prion disease is fatal in 100% of people who are affected, and there is no treatment currently available. In the months leading up to death, those suffering from prion disease can lose their memory and cognitive ability, become depressed and weak, lose control of their movements, go blind, and face increased risk of infections such as pneumonia.read more

Hiroki Nariai, MD

Hiroki Nariai, MD

What We Know: Recent studies suggested very fast electrical events called high-frequency oscillations (HFOs) may be closely related to the generation of epilepsy in the brain. Dr. Nariai will identify and analyze the HFOs as children undergo epilepsy surgery. Results of this research may lead to new insights into a biomarker that could be of value in determining which brainread more

Kanika Sharma, MD headshot

Kanika Sharma, MD

Overview: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a challenging neurological disorder in which the immune system targets the specialized myelin covering of nerve fibers, causing abnormal alteration in neural communication. Patients with MS are debilitated and often have fatigue, seizures, paralysis, depression, and other serious symptoms. Dr. Kanika Sharma, of the University of Iowa, hopes to improve outcomes and reduce costs forread more

Bhavana Patel, MD

Bhavana Patel, MD

What We Know: Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is a very common cause of memory problems in the United States. It is often not properly identified and at this time we do not know enough about whether people with DLB are accessing the best care for their disease. Our Plan to Help: Dr. Patel’s team will look at various aspectsread more

Wissam Georges Deeb, MD

Wissam Georges Deeb, MD

What We Know: Tourette syndrome is a common condition that causes multiple tics. Tics can be unwanted body movements and sounds. For some patients, tics are bothersome and can limit the activities and opportunities in their lives. Treatment is sometimes needed. When a doctor starts a treatment, they need to know if tics are getting better. For this reason, doctorsread more

Davut Pehlivan, MD

Davut Pehlivan, MD

Overview: Patients with neuromuscular disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and multiple sclerosis, experience significant consequences as a result of these diseases. However, many other neuromuscular disorders (NMDs) are less well known but still have severe consequences for the people experiencing them. Dr. Duvat Pehlivan, of Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, Texas, is trying to findread more

Emily Harrington, MD, PhD

Emily Harrington, MD, PhD

What We Know: Oligodendrocytes are the cells in the central nervous system that wrap neurons with myelin sheaths and allow for rapid conduction of action potentials. Oligodendrocytes have many roles other than wrapping axons including communicating with neurons through synapses. A largely unexplained role of oligodendrocyte progenitors is how they interface and interact with immune cells and how these interactionsread more

Johanna Hamel, MD

Johanna Hamel, MD

What We Know: Myotonic dystrophy is the most common adult onset muscular dystrophy. There is currently no available disease modifying treatment. Current theories hold that the genetic defect causes a toxic RNA, which accumulates in the nucleus of the cell and causes protein dysfunction by trapping proteins important for normal cell function. However, this may not be the complete explanation,read more

Jill Napierala, PhD

Jill Napierala, PhD

What We Know: Friedreich’s ataxia (FRDA) is a severe and progressive neurodegenerative disorder caused by lower production of the frataxin protein.  Its deficiency leads to complex changes in multiple organs of FRDA patients, with neurons and heart cells being most affected by lower levels of frataxin.  As all functions of an organism are interconnected, the deficiency of a single, criticalread more

Michelle Fullard, MD

Michelle Fullard, MD

What We Know: As Parkinson’s disease progresses, patients can develop motor fluctuations in which they alternate between periods of ON time, when Parkinson’s medications are improving symptoms of slowness, tremor and stiffness, and periods of OFF time, when the Parkinson’s symptoms return. Dyskinesias, or excessive movements, can also occur. Our Plan to Help: The goals of this study are toread more

Laura Graham, MPH

Laura Graham, MPH

What We Know: Weight management programs are designed to reduce cardiovascular risk factors. In addition to weight loss, participants also expect to improve long-term cardiovascular health. However, current research does not show an effect of these programs on long-term cardiovascular outcomes such as stroke or acute myocardial infarction. Our Plan to Help: Dr. Graham believes that this is due toread more

Joel Salinas, MD, MBA, MSc

Joel Salinas, MD, MBA, MSc

Overview: No biological factors completely explain the patterns of Alzheimer’s disease risk, though recent evidence suggests socio-behavioral influences are linked with accumulation of Alzheimer’s disease pathology. These influences, which we might be able to improve, remain unexplained—likely due to the current lack of tools for measuring these social influences which might be harnessed for Alzheimer’s disease interventions. Our Plan toread more

Alice Lam

Alice Lam, MD, PhD

The Research: The goal of Dr. Lam’s research is to develop new, non-invasive tools to identify and understand the role of epilepsy in Alzheimer’s disease The Potential Impact of the Results: Dr. Lam will be developing new approaches for detecting epilepsy and other forms of abnormal brain activity in people with Alzheimer’s disease.  This work will lead to a betterread more


Eugene Scharf, MD

Overview: Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in the United States, often leaving victims significantly impaired and unable to work or go about activities of daily living. The endocannabinoid system is a natural healing mechanism within the body, and research suggests that it may play a role in protecting neurologic function in patients who suffer a stroke.read more


Professor Steffen Jung, PhD

What we Know: Over 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, while 3 million have inflammatory bowel disease, and over 400,000 have multiple sclerosis. Other inflammatory diseases, such as asthma and arthritis, impact many more millions of American lives. These are grim figures in the face of a significant lack of effective treatments for some of these conditions. In addition,read more


Ryan Schubert, MD

The Burden of Multiple Sclerosis: Currently, it is difficult to determine whether a patient suffering from a first demyelinating event will or will not go on to develop relapsing Multiple Sclerosis. This is important because patients who go on to develop relapsing MS are much more likely to benefit from ongoing monitoring and treatment. The current way of determining riskread more


Miguel Fiol, MD

What we Know: Glioma is a brain tumor formed when glia – supportive cells that protect neurons in the brain – become cancerous. Gliomas make up more than two thirds of tumors originating in the brain. As these tumors grow, they damage important nearby brain tissues, causing a range of symptoms including headaches, unsteadiness, cognitive impairment, seizures and personality changes.read more


Manav Vyas, MD

There are over 300 million immigrants and refugees in the world today, many millions of whom live in the United States and Canada. Dr. Manav Vyas, of the University of Toronto, and a team of researchers want to find out how immigration status affects care and outcomes after stroke, a leading cause of death and disability around the world.


A. Gordon Smith, MD

More than 40,000 women will die of breast cancer this year. Many of the most effective chemotherapy drugs for treating breast cancer cause serious side effects, including peripheral neuropathy, which causes numbness, pain and difficulty walking. Neuropathy is one of the most common reasons for stopping chemotherapy, potentially reducing the success of treatment. Neuropathy often drastically reduces quality of life. Drs Gordon Smith, Kelsey Juster-Switlyk and Summer Karafiath of the University of Utah plan to find out what causes neuropathy, so that we can prevent it and get patients the treatment they need and improve their quality of life.


James Noble, MD

Sports-related concussions are often missed or disregarded in young athletes. Competitive pressures may drive children to continue playing after having a concussion. Delayed recognition can cause serious neurological problems including chronic headaches, memory lapses, learning difficulties, and even permanent disability if two or more concussions occur in close succession. Dr. James Noble, of Columbia University, plans to create an interactive educational activity to improve concussion awareness and reduce long-term brain damage in young athletes.


J. Kent Werner, MD

Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders including Frontotemporal dementia (FTD), Dementia with Lewy bodies(DLB), Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) are some of the most devastating afflictions faced by individuals, their families, and our society. There is no cure available for these neurodegenerative conditions. Dr. Werner and his team at Cogentis Therapeutics are developing groundbreaking therapies to reverse these disorders in collaboration with the NIH, Harvard Medical School, MIT, and Johns Hopkins University.


Charlene Ong, MD

Brain swelling is a potentially lethal complication of acute brain injuries. Current methods of detecting brain swelling are invasive, or may identify its progression too late to reverse further damage. Dr. Charlene Ong of Harvard University will test whether an innovative handheld technology that measures pupil changes can improve the diagnosis and treatment of brain swelling. Her findings could save lives and improve quality of life for those who suffer from sudden and catastrophic brain injuries.


Ania Busza, MD, PhD

Stroke is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States, often leaving victims unable to speak, climb the stairs, or go to work. Rehabilitation can help these victims get back to their normal lives, but many patients become discouraged and fail to get the most out of their treatment. Dr. Ania Busza, of the University of Rochester, hopes to improve stroke rehabilitation by using a high-tech virtual reality device to engage stroke victims during rehab sessions and motivate them to continue their treatment.


Adam Mecca, MD, PhD

Alzheimer’s disease is the number one cause of dementia worldwide, and currently no treatments can stop it. In Alzheimer’s disease, memory defects are caused by the loss of connections between brain cells. Dr. Adam Mecca, of Yale University, plans to use a high-tech imaging system to find out when this disconnection happens, which may help improve the use of current treatments and aid the discovery of new drugs to fight Alzheimer’s disease.


Aaron Boes, MD

As if having brain cancer isn’t devastating enough for a child and his family, about one in four children with brain cancer of the cerebellum also develop a condition known as posterior fossa syndrome. This syndrome involves problems with speech and movement, similar to the symptoms a stroke victim might experience. The cause of posterior fossa syndrome, however, is unknown. Working alongside doctors at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Aaron Boes plans to study why these problems occur, so that children already suffering from brain cancer, may not also have to deal with these complications.



Project goal: Use methods to detect early brain swelling of patients with devastating brain injury, and test new drugs to prevent further swelling.


Holly Hinson, MD

Project goal: Develop a scale to describe or quantify the severity of a syndrome some patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) develop called “Paroxysmal Sympathetic Hyperactivity” (PSH).


Ana-Claire Meyer, MD

Project goal: Expand access to and improve the quality of neurological care both domestically to underserved populations and globally to underserved regions.


Paul George, MD, PhD

Project goal: Develop treatments to restore lost brain function after stroke.


An Hong Do, MD

Project goal: Discover a new therapy approach that can provide stroke survivors with improvements exceeding those of typical rehabilitation therapies.


Jeffrey Gelfand, MD, MAS

Project goal: Improve care for patients with neurosarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease involving the nervous system, by identifying less invasive ways to diagnose the disease, optimizing neuroimaging (MRI) to detect the characteristic pattern of inflammation that marks sarcoidosis and discover better treatments.


Stefanie Geisler, MD

Project goal: In hopes of finding ways to keep peripheral nerve fibers alive during chemotherapy treatments, the research investigated whether nerve fibers can be protected by removing or interfering with a certain protein associated with nerve fiber death.


Vikram Khurana, MD, PhD

Project goal: Identify abnormalities of cells from patients with Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases in hopes of developing a personalized neurology approach to these disorders.


Ricardo Roda, MD, PhD

Project goal: Identify new antibodies in myasthenia gravis and how they cause disease.


Nada Hindiyeh, MD

Project goal: Develop a screening tool for the diagnosis of chronic migraine.


Lidia Maria Moura, MD

Project goal: Study the impact of how physicians deliver care to patients with epilepsy and to redesign care delivery so that the individual goals and needs of the patient drive positive outcomes and define quality rather than traditional process measures.


Elissaios Karageorgiou, MD

Project goal: Use magnetoencephalography to identify biomarkers in the brain to help accurately diagnose Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD).


Suzanne Goh, MD

Project goal: Use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to identify features of the brain, such as neural signatures or biomarkers, to help diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).


Padmaja Vittal, MD, MS

Project goal: The goal of this research is to evaluate different genetic patterns in patients with Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS).


Randall Bateman, MD

Project goal: Investigate different biomarkers, or laboratory tests, to determine ways to predict who will be affected by Alzheimer’s disease before they have symptoms of it.


Hristelina Ilieva, MD, PhD

Project goal: Determine how different glial cells and neurons are affected in the most common subtype of familial ALS – the C9ORF72 linked ALS.


Jonathan Lipton, MD, PhD

Project goal: To understand the biological basis for sleep disturbance in patients with neurodevelopmental diseases such as autism.


Salim Chahin, MD

Project goal: Discover new methods to measure and investigate the cause of fatigue, a common and disabling symptom in multiple sclerosis (MS).


Jörg Dietrich, MD, PhD

Project goal: Find possible ways to repair structural and functional damage to the brain caused by chemotherapy and radiation.