Conference Coverage

Plenary sessions at ANA 2017 cover wide spectrum of neurologic topics


The six plenary sessions of the annual meeting of the American Neurological Association, taking place Oct. 15-17 in San Diego, promise to cover a broad range of research areas, including neuronal circuits and behavior, global neurology, precision medicine, antisense oligonucleotide therapies, and molecular imaging.

The morning of Oct. 15 starts off with the plenary session, “Linking Circuits to Behavior: Promise & Peril,” which seeks to impart how technologies such as optogenetics enable manipulation of discrete neural populations but require careful consideration of the methods for interpreting the resulting data in order to translate it to human functional neuroimaging for potential therapeutic use.

Later, in the afternoon of Oct. 15, the traditional Derek Denny-Brown Young Neurological Scholar Symposium will showcase the presentations from the two clinical science winners and one basic science winner of the Derek Denny-Brown Young Neurological Scholar Awards, as well as the 2017 Distinguished Neurology Teacher Award, the 2017 Grass Foundation ANA Award in Neuroscience, and the 2017 Wolfe Neuropathy Research Prize. The Derek Denny-Brown Young Neurological Scholar Award recognizes neurologists and neuroscientists in the first 10 years of their career at the assistant/associate faculty (equivalent) level who have made outstanding basic and clinical scientific advances toward the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and cure of neurologic diseases. This year, award winner Keven N. Sheth, MD, of Yale University, New Haven, Conn., will present on “Instructive, Pragmatic, and Successful Trials in Acute Brain Injury: Making Intracerebral Hemorrhage the LEAST Devastating Form of Stroke”; Leslie E. Skolarus, MD, of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, will present on “Reducing the Burden of Stroke in a Disadvantaged Community”; and Conrad Chris Weihl, MD, PhD, of Washington University in St. Louis will present on “Connecting Protein Quality Control Pathways in Skeletal Muscle and Muscle Disease.” The 2017 Distinguished Neurology Teacher Award goes to Zachary Nathaniel London, MD, of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The winner of this year’s Grass Foundation ANA Award in Neuroscience, which goes to an outstanding young physician-scientist conducting research in basic or clinical neuroscience, is Clotilde Lagier-Tourenne, MD, PhD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, who will discuss “Modeling C9ORF72 Disease: A Crucial Step for Therapeutic Development in ALS and Frontotemporal Dementia.” The symposium’s final presentation will have Stefanie Geisler, MD, of Washington University in St. Louis, talk about “Targeting a Core Axonal Degeneration Program to Treat Vincristine and Bortezomib-Induced Axonal Degeneration.” Dr. Geisler won the Wolfe Neuropathy Research Prize, which honors outstanding investigators who identify a new cause or treatment of axonal peripheral neuropathy.

The morning plenary session on Oct. 16 will focus on translational neuroscience efforts that are paying off with discoveries and insights into neurologic disorders that have higher prevalence or greater relevance to low- and middle-income countries. Presentations on these efforts will include discussion of the causation and prevention of Konzo, a distinct upper–motor neuron disease associated with cassava cyanogenic poisoning in sub-Saharan Africa; a case-control study on the impact of multiple mycotoxins on the development of Nodding syndrome in northern Uganda; efforts to address neurologic manifestations of sexually transmitted virus infections in Peru; a longitudinal cohort study of neurologic sequelae in Ebola virus disease survivors in Liberia; efforts to protect against cerebral malaria; the epidemiology of peripheral neuropathy in urban and rural Bangladeshi type 2 diabetes patients; and the use of smartphones and teleconsultations to improve care for people with epilepsy in low- and middle-income countries.

“Precision Medicine in Neurologic Disease” is the theme of four presentations in the afternoon plenary session on Oct. 16. Huda Y. Zoghbi, MD, of Baylor University, and Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston will talk about how her work in animal models of disease has enabled new insights into the effect that certain regulator proteins have on levels of disease-driving proteins such as tau and alpha-synuclein in neurodegenerative diseases. Amy Wagers, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, Boston, will describe her lab’s use of the gene-editing potential of the CRISPR-Cas9 system to fix frame-disrupting mutations in the Duchenne muscular dystrophy gene, DMD, which encodes dystrophin, and produce functional dystrophin expression in muscle stem cells in a mouse model of the disease, which partially recovered functional deficiencies of dystrophic muscle. Donald Berry, PhD, of the University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston plans to discuss the importance of adaptive platform trials – which match therapies to patients – from oncology to neurologic therapy trials and the lessons learned from two major ongoing oncology treatment trials. Cristina Sampaio, MD, PhD, of the CHDI Foundation, aims to inform attendees of the power of prognostic and predictive biomarker-guided trials in neurology to improve the likelihood of success of drug development. Three high-scoring abstracts in the field of precision medicine also will be presented.

The final day of the meeting brings a morning plenary session on “Antisense Oligonucleotide Treatment of Genetic Neurological Diseases” that will focus on the use of antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) to silence specific genes or alter their pre-mRNA splicing in Duchenne muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and tauopathies. Additional presentations will focus on abstracts about blood and salivary biomarkers in Huntington’s disease and the early efficacy and safety results of an ASO in patients with hereditary transthyretin amyloidosis with polyneuropathy.

The expanding use and development of methods to assess brain pathology in vivo sets the scene for the meeting’s final plenary session, “Molecular Imaging in Neurologic Disease” in the afternoon of Oct. 17. The use of positron emission tomography and single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) tracers for glucose metabolism, the dopamine system, amyloid-beta, tau, synaptic markers, and activated microglia has grown substantially to investigate disease mechanisms, develop new therapeutics, and provide diagnostic and prognostic clinical care. Reisa Sperling, MD, of Harvard Medical School, Boston, will provide an overview of the direction of PET ligand use and development in diagnosing early Alzheimer’s disease. Nicolaas I. Bohnen, MD, PhD, of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, will describe a hypothesis for how hypercholinergic activity in the brain of Parkinson’s disease patients may for a time compensate for the loss of striatal dopamine and influence the appearance of a tremor-predominant motor phenotype in patients. Richard E. Carson, PhD, of Yale University will focus on the development of PET ligands to monitor synaptic density loss in neuropsychiatric disorders. Noninvasive imaging has also begun to influence research in the detection of neuroinflammation in a wide variety of conditions, with most research focusing on tracers for activated microglia and astrocytes, according to speaker Martin Pomper, MD, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. The session will conclude with three molecular imaging abstract presentations.

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