UM Presents Major Research at the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting

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The annual American Academy of Neurology (AAN) meeting attracts thousands of neurologists from around the world to discuss the latest advances in the field. Though this year’s meeting was held virtually, the conference still attracted around 13,000 attendees. As always, Miller School of Medicine physicians and researchers had a major impact on the AAN meeting, with more than 20 presentations covering a wide range of neurological issues.

“We had terrific representation at the annual meeting,” said Ralph L. Sacco, M.D., M.S., professor and Olemberg Chair of Neurology, executive director of the McKnight Brain Institute, chief of neurology at Jackson Health System, director of the UM Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and senior associate dean for clinical and translational science. “Residents, fellows and faculty presented many innovative research findings on neurological diseases.”

Attendees of the Department of Neurology's annual AAN alumni reception.

The Department of Neurology has a major footprint on neurological research worldwide. The group operates the Florida Stroke Registry, which pools statewide data to understand stroke outcomes, improve care and reduce disparities. The department also brings strong expertise in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), dementia, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.

This expertise was on full display at AAN, as several Miller School neurology faculty gave high-profile talks. Neeta Garg, M.D., and Alberto Martinez-Arizala, M.D., both associate professors of clinical neurology, discussed spinal cord rehabilitation, including clinical concerns and emerging treatments.

Naymee Velez-Ruiz, M.D., assistant professor of clinical neurology, and Leticia Tornes, M.D., associate professor, presented on “Special Issues in Women’s Neurologic Care,” noting that hormones, reproductive concerns and other factors can make addressing these already challenging conditions even more complex in women.

Michael Benatar, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurology, the Walter Bradley Chair in ALS Research, and executive director of the ALS Center at the University of Miami, presented research on treating ALS before patients start showing symptoms. His team looked at genetic markers for familial ALS to identify participants, and treated them with a drug called toferson. The study showed promising early results, and Dr. Benatar is hoping to follow up with a larger trial.

“This is really where the field of neurology is going,” said Dr. Sacco. “By the time people have symptoms in ALS or Alzheimer’s, it’s often too late to effectively intervene. This was an important proof of concept study. If we can identify patients at really high risk for ALS in the pre-symptomatic phase, we can start them on medication and potentially alter the course of the disease.”

Teshamae Monteith, M.D., presents on primary headache disorders.

Kottil Rammohan, M.D., professor of clinical neurology, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence and chief of the Multiple Sclerosis Division, presented “Motor Impairment in Multiple Sclerosis: Analysis from the North American Registry for Care and Research in Multiple Sclerosis,” which discussed deploying more sensitive tests to monitor MS impairment.

In Parkinson’s disease, Corneliu C. Luca, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) program in the Department of Neurology, presented work on DBS, a common therapy for patients with this movement disorder. Using data from the Miller School’s DBS registry, the team found that advanced systems that include multiple independent current controls improve outcomes.

One of the Florida Stroke Registry’s primary goals is to reduce race, gender and regional care disparities. Gillian Gordon Perue, M.D., assistant professor of neurology and University of Miami Chief of Neurology and Stroke at UM/Jackson South Hospital, used the database to investigate post-stroke care, focusing on blood pressure control. Continuity of care after stroke patients leave the hospital is a major issue and the study showed more work needs to be done to level the playing field.

“There's opportunity for further improvement in how we manage blood pressure when we're having patients discharged from hospitals,” said Dr. Sacco. “Dr. Gordon Perue’s work showed 45 percent of African American patients did not receive a diuretic or calcium channel blocker when they were discharged from the hospital. These are standard treatments and should not be missed.”

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