Neurodevelopment in Rare Disorders Research

The Program for the Study of Neurodevelopment in Rare Disorders (NDRD) is committed to research that will further the understanding of rare neurodegenerative diseases with the goal of developing new treatments to help affected children live longer, healthier lives.

The research of the NDRD uses an interdisciplinary translational approach to answer key clinical questions. Among our protocols are:

  • Natural history studies to create baseline information about specific diseases
  • Brain imaging studies using the most advanced technologies available
  • Therapeutic interventional studies aimed at slowing or stopping the progression of these rare and debilitating diseases

Natural History Studies

A natural history study tracks the course of a disease over time in untreated patients. Rare diseases often have many forms, which differ in terms of age at onset, specific symptoms and their severity, and how rapidly the disease progresses. Identifying how the natural progression of rare neurodegenerative diseases affects the brain helps researchers evaluate the effectiveness of new treatments. Through an Institutional Review Board-approved longitudinal research study, the NDRD has developed a database containing detailed information from more than 600 evaluations of more than 325 patients with rare neurodegenerative disorders.

Brain Imaging Research

The Neuroimaging Research Program aims to develop new imaging technologies.

A core research initiative is the NDRD Neuroimaging Research Program, which aims to develop new imaging technologies that improve the understanding of early brain development and how it is affected by disease progression. The long-term outcomes for children with neurodegenerative diseases improve with early diagnosis and therapy. The NDRD neuroimaging team of clinicians, neuroradiologists, statisticians, and computer scientists is developing new stringent methodologies to analyze this complex data. The NDRD database has imaging data from more than 250 healthy children scanned as neonates and at 1, 2, 4, and 6 years of age. The database also includes over 300 scans of more than 160 children with genetic neurodegenerative diseases.

Treatment Studies

The Program for the Study of NDRD team works with pharmaceutical and biotech companies that are developing a diverse range of treatments for neurodegenerative diseases. Investigational treatments include enzyme replacement therapy, gene therapy, and umbilical cord blood transplantation. Correlating functional outcomes with neuroimaging findings with will guide the development and refinement of new treatments. The NDRD database contains over 1,000 detailed evaluations of more than 200 children who received umbilical cord stem cell transplantation.

Clinical Studies

The Pitt+Me Registry connects community members and patients of all ages with researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC. Parents who enroll their children in the Pitt+Me Registry will learn about research studies in areas of their choosing related to their child’s health.