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Spotlight on Research Supported by PDF

Profile of Robert Burke, M.D.
Professor of Neurology and Pathology
Director of the Morris K. Udall Center of Excellence for Parkinson's Disease Research
Columbia University

For almost 25 years, Dr. Bob Burke has been a member of the faculty at Columbia University in New York City. In his time at Columbia, he has enhanced the impressive reputation of the institution in neuroscience research through a combination of scientific skills, intellectual curiosity and a thoughtful, respectful management style.

Dr. Burke began his career at Columbia under the guidance of Dr. Stanley Fahn, Movement Disorders Division Chief, and is now one of Dr. Fahn's senior colleagues and co-author of many scientific papers. Since the mid-1990s, Dr. Burke has helped lead Columbia's Department of Neurology both as Director of the Neuroscience Research Core in the Division of Movement Disorders and as Director of Laboratory Research in Parkinson's Disease and Related Disorders. He has worked with many of the future leaders in the PD research community, serving as a mentor to dozens of fellows and postdoctoral fellows who have passed through his laboratory at Columbia.

With his staff of fellows and research assistants, Dr. Burke spends much of his time these days studying Parkinson's in the rodent brain to better understand why and how dopamine neurons are slowly destroyed. His team is currently studying the effects of BDNF (a neurotrophic factor which protects neurons and occurs naturally in the brain) in the rodent brain on dopamine neuron development.

Through more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and an equivalent number of review articles and invited papers, Dr. Burke has delineated a growing and important body of work on his central contribution to Parkinson's science: the process of programmed cell death in both basic and clinical sciences. Some of his most fascinating recent research has tested the effect of another neurotrophic factor, GDNF, on the development of the dopamine system. Several of his studies have focused on how to use gene therapy to stimulate, in dopamine neurons, the biochemical pathways that are utilized by trophic factors. This approach may make it possible to supply the neurorestoration and protection provided by trophic factors without the difficulties inherent in directly infusing them into brain.

Dr. Burke's leadership extends beyond Columbia to the wider Parkinson's research community, and his work has been funded by most major PD organizations such as PDF, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and private foundations. Dr. Burke is a member of numerous professional organizations and societies, including the American Academy of Neurology, the Society for Neuroscience, the American Neurological Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences. He has served in leadership positions with the Movement Disorder Society, including Treasurer for 2001-2002 and is a member of both the Nominating Committee and the Awards Committee. Dr. Burke also participated in the NINDS consortium to review the Parkinson's Disease Research Agenda, the plan that shapes federal funding of scientific research on Parkinson's disease.

Building on his many years of basic and clinical research, Dr. Burke gives lectures and talks to scientists and laypeople at academic institutions, Parkinson's symposia and patient gatherings, such as the Parkinson's Action Network's Annual Forum. He also helps to shape the current picture of Parkinson's research by sitting on the editorial board of the journal Clinical Neuroscience Research and serving as an ad hoc reviewer for virtually every major neuroscience publication. In addition, Dr. Burke works with grant-giving organizations to review proposals for funding PD research. For the last several years he has provided guidance to PDF as a member of the Scientific Grants Review Committee, and he is currently a member of the Scientific Program and Finance Committee for the World Parkinson Congress 2006.

Dr. Burke's work is supported as part of PDF's Center Grant to Columbia University. For fiscal year 2006, PDF's grant of more than $2 million provides important partial funding to one of the world's largest and most influential teams of Parkinson's scientists.