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[May 11,2010]

SUNY Downstate Parkinson’s Researcher Ivan Bodis-Wollner Awarded Major Grant by Michael J. Fox Foundation

Ivan Bodis-Wollner, MD, DSc, professor of neurology and ophthalmology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, and director of the Parkinson's Disease and Related Disorders Center of Excellence, has been awarded $362,882 over two years by the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) to study the use of a retinal biomarker to track the progress of neurodegeneration in patients with Parkinson's disease.

A progressive disease, Parkinson’s was originally believed to affect only the motor system of the brain. Scientists now recognize that non-motor symptoms can also be present. One of them is impaired vision and retinal processing. In a 1978 paper (Measurement of Visual Evoked Potentials in Parkinson’s Disease; Brain 101:661-671), Dr. Bodis-Wollner and the late Melvin D. Yahr, MD, showed that vision is affected in Parkinson’s disease and opened the field of investigating vision in Parkinson’s.
Current research aimed at finding effective therapies to halt the disease’s progression have been hindered by the lack of an easily available biomarker of neurodegeneration. Dr. Bodis-Wollner believes that the retina may provide clues to such a marker. The MJFF grant will fund a retinal study using optical coherence tomography (OCT), an optical scanning method for creating three-dimensional images of organs and tissues.

In previous clinical studies using OCT, Dr. Bodis-Wollner found that the central retinal area becomes thin in patients with Parkinson’s disease. He anticipates that the MJFF-funded study will validate these preliminary results and establish that retinal thinning parallels the progression of motor impairment in Parkinson’s. He hopes that the study will provide important new knowledge of the disease and lead to new therapies to halt its progression.

Dr. Bodis-Wollner has published over 140 research studies in such top-tier journals as Nature, Science, Journal of Physiology, Brain, and Annals of Neurology, plus six books. His honors and awards include: Fogarty Senior Fellowship (1986); Humboldt Research Prize (1993); Doctor Honoris Causa, Szeged University, Hungary; membership in the American Neurological Association and in the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (2001); Fellow, Hanse Institute for Advanced Studies; member, Executive Council of the World Federation of Neurology Committee on Parkinson Disease and Related Disorders; and co-chairman, Non-Motor Committee of the Parkinson Study Group, Rochester, NY.


SUNY Downstate Medical Center, founded in 1860, was the first medical school in the United States to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. A center of innovation and excellence in research and clinical service delivery, SUNY Downstate Medical Center comprises a College of Medicine, Colleges of Nursing and Health Related Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and an Advanced Biotechnology Park and Biotechnology Incubator.

SUNY Downstate ranks ninth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools.  More physicians practicing in New York City have graduated from SUNY Downstate than from any other medical school.