Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Department of Pediatrics

Neurology Research

Researchers in the Division of Neurology and their collaborators in other divisions at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, as well as at other universities across the United States, conduct epidemiological, translational, and basic laboratory research targeting a wide range of conditions that cause injury or death of brain cells (neurons). The objective of this research is to find new therapies to prevent neural tissue injury. This field is often referred to as "neuroprotection." The research conducted by our faculty is driven by, and in turn, is supportive of, our major clinical interests. These research themes include: acute brain injury, epilepsy, neurovirology, neuromuscular disorders, and brain inflammation/repair. The scope of research methods employed include: molecular neurovirology, animal models, neuro-imaging, bioinformatics, multicenter clinical trials and epidemiology.

Leon Epstein, MD, has led a group of researchers for nearly 15 years who have studied the pathways by which viruses such as HIV (the AIDS virus) cause inflammation in the brain. This activation of special inflammatory cells (called microglia) in the brain results in the release of substances called cytokines. While these naturally occurring substances can be helpful in fighting infections they can also cause neurons to become overly excited and die (referred to as excitotoxicity).

These same pathways have been implicated in many other conditions including stroke, hypoxic injury (insufficient oxygen) in the newborn, the complications of organ transplantation and the adverse effects of chemotherapy for brain and other cancers. Ongoing drug development funded by the NIH (National Institutes of Health) and directed by Dr. Epstein is specifically searching for treatments for HIV-induced neuronal injury, however, these treatments could have broad applicability to all of the conditions above. Promising compounds discovered in the laboratory have been brought to clinical trials (translational research). The object of this research is to find new therapies to prevent neural tissue injury.

Mark Wainwright, MD, PhD, joined the division from Duke University. Dr. Wainwright's interest is neuroprotection from hypoxic brain injury in newborns. Dr. Wainwright is investigating a number of strategies including medications and hypothermia in this setting. This is yet another opportunity to prevent injury at a critical time when the baby's nervous system is still developing. Research in neuroprotection is essential if we are to improve the long term outcomes and quality of life of children with neurologic disorders.

For more specifics on the research activities being conducted in the Division of Neurology, please visit the division page on the Stanley Manne Children's Research Institute website.