Parkinson’s Disease


Between seven and 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological condition marked by tremor, rigidity and the gradual loss of voluntary movement, along with a host of other symptoms such as loss of sense of smell, cognitive issues, constipation, trouble sleeping and pain.

Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s and there are no treatment strategies that slow or stop disease progression. But thanks to recent advances, scientists at the Institute and around the world are narrowing down the factors that contribute to the disease and working to translate these findings into new, life-changing therapies.

With the exception of a small number of people whose Parkinson’s is directly linked to family genetic inheritance, most cases are sporadic, meaning they have no known cause. A growing body of evidence suggests that genetic and epigenetic predisposition coupled with environmental factors, such as exposure to certain inflammatory agents, may trigger the disease, which progresses for years or even decades before the onset of its signature movement-related symptoms.

With an aging global population, the number of people with Parkinson’s is slated to significantly increase in the coming years, underscoring the importance and urgency of developing improved treatment strategies.

What we’re doing

The Institute’s Center for Neurodegenerative Science is home to experts in Parkinson’s disease and other progressive neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and multiple system atrophy whose goal is to improve quality of life for patients by:

  • Impeding disease progression: Scientists in the Center are working to better understand the complex causes of Parkinson’s in order to develop new treatments that slow or stop the disease’s progression or even prevent it altogether—something no current treatment can do.
  • Developing ways to repair the brain: The symptoms of Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases occur when certain brain cells are damaged or killed. At the Institute, scientists are exploring innovative ways to repair this damage and restore lost function.
  • Designing more definitive diagnostic methods: There are currently no definitive diagnostic tests for Parkinson’s disease, which complicates treatment decisions and puts an undue burden on patients. Institute scientists are searching for biological indicators called biomarkers, which can be assessed objectively and used to better diagnose the disease.

Institute-associated clinical trials

The Linked Clinical Trials initiative


The 2020 Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease symposium and parallel patient meeting Rallying to the Challenge will focus on when and how Parkinson’s disease begins. LEARN MORE>>


Parkinson’s disease 101 (Infographic)

Drug repurposing in Parkinson’s disease (Infographic)

VAI Whiteboard Series: What are non-motor symptoms in Parkinson’s disease? (Video)

World Parkinson’s Day Facebook Live Panel (Video)

2017 Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease Facebook Roundtable (Video)

2018 Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease Facebook Roundtable (Video)


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Patrik Brundin, M.D., Ph.D. (Center Director)

Patrik Brundin, M.D., Ph.D.
VARI Associate Director of Research
Professor and Director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Science
Jay Van Andel Endowed Chair in Parkinson’s Research
Focus area: Translational Parkinson’s disease research
Patrik Brundin, M.D., Ph.D., investigates molecular mechanisms in Parkinson’s disease, and his goals are to develop new therapies aimed at slowing or stopping disease progression or repairing damage. He is one of the top-cited researchers in the field of neurodegenerative disease and leads international efforts to repurpose drugs to treat Parkinson’s.

José Brás, Ph.D.

José Brás, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Center for Neurodegenerative Science

Focus area: Genomic sciences and neurodegeneration

Dr. José Brás is a world-leading molecular geneticist whose research focuses on how variations in our genes impact the onset and progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia with Lewy bodies. He is an associate professor at Van Andel Research Institute.

Lena Brundin, M.D., Ph.D.

Brundin_Lena_255x187Lena Brundin, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Center for Neurodegenerative Science

Focus area: Behavioral medicine

As a psychiatrist and a scientist, Lena Brundin, M.D., Ph.D., seeks ways to diagnose and treat depression and suicidality by studying inflammation of the nervous system. Her findings may lead to earlier interventions for depressive patients and for development of a new class of antidepressants that targets the immune system. She also investigates how inflammatory mechanisms can damage nerve cells in Parkinson’s disease.

Hong-Yuan Chu, Ph.D.

Hong-Yuan Chu, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Center for Neurodegenerative Science

Focus area: Neural circuits and neurodegeneration

Dr. Hong-yuan Chu investigates how and why dopamine-producing cells die off in Parkinson’s, a process that underlies many of the disease’s hallmark symptoms. He plans to leverage this new knowledge to develop new, more precise ways to slow or stop disease progression. He is an assistant professor in the Center for Neurodegenerative Science.

Gerhard (Gerry) Coetzee, Ph.D.

Gerhard (Gerry) Coetzee, Ph.D.
Professor, Center for Neurodegenerative Science

Focus area: Post-GWAS functionality

Gerhard Coetzee, Ph.D., searches the human genome for minuscule changes that contribute to onset, progression and drug resistance of many diseases, ranging from cancer to Parkinson’s to rare and heritable disorders. His team deploys genome sequencing technologies and high-powered computational arrays to tease out patterns and interactions of markers and treatment targets from among the human genome’s more than three billion DNA base pairs.

Rita Guerreiro, Ph.D.

Rita Guerreiro, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Center for Neurodegenerative Science

Focus area: Genomic sciences and neurodegeneration

Dr. Rita Guerreiro is an internationally recognized leader in neurogenetics who studies genomic contributors to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. She is an associated professor at Van Andel Research Institute.

Michael Henderson, Ph.D.

Michael Henderson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Center for Neurodegenerative Science

Focus area: Protein pathologies and genetic risk in neurodegeneration

Michael Henderson, Ph.D., investigates what causes neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and dementia with Lewy bodies, and the factors that control disease progression. He hopes to translate his findings into new therapies that slow or stop this progression.

Viviane Labrie, Ph.D.

Labrie_Viviane_255x187_newViviane Labrie, Ph.D. (In Memoriam)
Assistant Professor, Center for Neurodegenerative Science

Focus area: Epigenetics in neurodegenerative diseases

Viviane Labrie, Ph.D., studies the dynamic interplay between the human genome and its control system—the epigenome—to understand how neurodegenerative diseases start and progress in an effort to develop improved diagnostics and treatments. Labrie’s scientific pursuits have deepened understanding of conditions from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases to schizophrenia to healthy aging conditions like lactose intolerance. She has also developed new methods for epigenome analysis.

Darren Moore, Ph.D.

Darren Moore, Ph.D.
Professor, Center for Neurodegenerative Science

Focus area: Molecular neurodegeneration

Darren Moore, Ph.D., seeks new diagnostic and treatment approaches for Parkinson’s by investigating the inherited form of the disease, which comprises five to 10 percent of cases. He aims to translate the understanding of these genetic mutations into better treatments and new diagnostic tools for Parkinson’s, both inherited and non-inherited. Discoveries from Moore’s lab routinely elucidate the faulty molecular interactions that transform healthy, functioning neurons into diseased ones.