Partner Research Centers:


Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research

CNDR Leadership


Virgnia M.-Y. Lee, PhD, MBA

Virginia M.-Y. Lee, PhD, MBA

Director, CNDR
The John H. Ware 3rd Professor in Alzheimer's Research
Professor, Pathology and Lab Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine
Co-Director, Marian S. Ware Center for Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Program
Faculty Profile


Dr. Lee's Research Focus

Virginia M.-Y. Lee's research focuses on the etiology and pathogenesis of alpha-synuclein, tau, TDP-43, and other misfolded disease proteins in the pathobiology of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease (AD), Parkinson's disease (PD), frontotemporal dementias (FTD), and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). She employs a multidisciplinary approach that includes biochemical and molecular studies of neuronal culture systems, animal models and human tissues obtained at autopsy in the laboratory to address common research issues among these neurodegenerative diseases. Other research efforts focus on an increased understanding of the collaborative initiatives to advance drug discovery in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

Her work has demonstrated that tau, alpha-synuclein, and TDP-43 proteins form unique brain aggregates in neurodegenerative diseases and has provided critical evidence that aggregation of brain proteins is a common mechanistic theme in diverse neurodegenerative diseases including AD, PD, FTLD, ALS and related disorders. Significantly, Dr. Lee's studies implicated the abnormal aggregation of tau alpha-synculein, and TDP-43 in mechanisms that compromise neuronal viability. This research has opened up new avenues of research to identify targets for drug discovery to develop better treatments for these disorders.

Dr. Lee's Bio

Dr. Virginia M.-Y. Lee is the John H. Ware 3rd Professor in Alzheimer's Research in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. Dr. Lee studied music at the Royal Academy of Music in London (1962-1964), obtained a M.S. in Biochemistry from the University of London (1968), and received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of California at San Francisco in 1973. She pursued postdoctoral studies in pharmacology at the Rudolf Magnus Institute at the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands (1973-1974) and in experimental neuropathology at Children's Hospital Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston (1974-1979), after which she assumed the position of Associate Senior Research Investigator at Smith Kline & French, Incorporated in Philadelphia from 1979-1980.

Dr. Lee joined the faculty of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1981, where she rose to the rank of Professor in 1989. While a Penn faculty member, Dr. Lee entered the Executive M.B.A. program at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (1982-1984) and obtained her M.B.A. degree from Wharton in 1984. She was named the John H. Ware 3rd Professor in Alzheimer's Research in 1999. Dr. Lee's research focuses on the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease (AD), Parkinson's disease (PD), frontotemporal dementias (FTDs) and related neurodegenerative disorders of aging.

She is the author of hundreds of papers since 1970, and her research has been recognized by a number of awards including:

  • MERIT (Method to Extend Research In Time) Award (1986-1994)
  • Senator Jacob Javits Award (1988-1985), National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Allied Signal Award for Aging Research (1992)
  • Metropolitan Life Foundation Promising Investigator Award For Alzheimer's Disease Research (1991)
  • Metropolitan Life Foundation Award For Alzheimer's Disease Research (1996)
  • Zenith Award grant (1991); Pioneer Award grant (1998); Temple Award grant (2001), The Alzheimer's Association
  • Potamkin Award for Research on Alzheimer's, Pick's and Related Neurodegenerative Disorders (1998)
  • Rita Hayworth Award for Medical Research in Alzheimer's Disease (1998)
  • Stanley Cohen Biomedical Research Award (2000)
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb Unrestricted Biomedical Research Grant in Neuroscience Research (2003-2008)
  • Founders Distinguished Scholars Award from the American Association of University Women (2004)
  • Member, Institute on Medicine, National Academy of the Sciences (2005)
  • Alzheimer's Association Khalid Iqbal Lifetime Achievement Award (2009)
  • 2012 - 24th Annual Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Foundation Award in Neuropsychiatry Research, Los Angeles, CA
  • 2012 - Philadelphia's John Scott Award
  • 2013 - Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Dr. Lee was named the first recipient of the John H. Ware 3rd Chair for Alzheimer's Disease Research at the University of Pennsylvania in 1999, and she has served on a number of grant review committees, including NIH Study Sections and foundation review committees, such as the American Health Assistance Foundation. In 2004 Dr. Lee became a member of the National Advisory Council on Aging (NIH).

Research advances that have emerged from Dr. Lee's work over the past 20 years have enhanced prospects for the discovery of new and better therapies for AD, PD, FTDs and other neurodegenerative disorders caused by abnormal filamentous aggregates of brain proteins, and Dr. Lee continues to make seminal contributions to understanding mechanisms underlying these disorders.

Close section


John Q. Trojanowski, MD, PhD

John Q. Trojanowski, MD, PhD

Co-Director, Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research
Director, Institute on Aging & Director
Director, Alzheimer's Disease Core Center
Director, Penn Udall Center for Parkinson's Research
William Maul Measey-Truman G. Schnabel, Jr. MD Professor of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology
Faculty Profile


Dr. Trojanowski's Research

Research currently centers on molecular mechanisms of neuron dysfunction, degeneration and death in normal aging and in neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, frontotemporal dementias with/without parkinsonism, motor neuron disease, etc.). This research uses immunological, biochemical, genetic, molecular and morphological methods to study human CNS and PNS tissue samples (postmortem or surgical), cell lines, synthetic proteins, and transgenic models of neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Trojanowski is involved in collaborative initiatives between Penn Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing to advance drug discovery, clinical research, and patient care related to Alzheimer's disease. He co-leads the Biomarker Cores for the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) and Michael J. Fox' Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) to test whether serial magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography, other biological markers, and clinical and neuropsychological assessment can be combined to measure the progression of Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease at the earliest stages.

Dr. Trojanowski's Bio

Dr. Trojanowski obtained his M.D./Ph.D. in 1976 from Tufts University in Boston. After a medicine internship at Mt. Auburn Hospital and Harvard Medical School, he began pathology/neuropathology training at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School (1977-1979) and completed training at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1980 where he was appointed assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine (1/1/1981) and rose to tenured full professor in 1990. Dr. Trojanowski held or currently holds major leadership positions at the University of Pennsylvania including:

  • Director, Penn's National Institute of Aging (NIA) Alzheimer's Disease Core Center (1991-present)
  • Principal Investigator, NIA Program Project Grant on Alzheimer's (AD) and Parkinson's (PD) disease (1990-2010)
  • Director, Medical Pathology for Penn Medicine (1988-2002)
  • Interim Director (2001-2002) and Director (2002-present), Institute on Aging
  • Founding Co-Director, Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (1992-present)
  • Director, NINDS Morris K. Udall Penn Udall Center of Excellence for Parkinson's Disease Research (2007-present)
  • First William Maul Measey-Truman G. Schnabel, Jr., M.D. Professor of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology (2003-present)
  • Co-director, Marian S. Ware Alzheimer Drug Discovery Program (2004-present)

For over 20 years, Dr. Trojanowski has conducted research on AD, PD, ALS, dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) and other aging related nervous system disorders. Most of his hundreds of publications focus on the pathobiology of neurodegenerative disorders, especially the role of abnormal protein aggregates (misfolded proteins) in these diseases. The major goal of his research now is to translate understanding on mechanisms of aging related neurodegenerative diseases into meaningful diagnostics and interventions to treat or prevent these disorders.

  • MERIT Award (1986-1994), National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Metropolitan Life Foundation Promising Investigator Award For Alzheimer's Disease Research (1991)
  • Membership, American Society of Clinical Investigation (1991)
  • Established Investigator Award, National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (1994)
  • Metropolitan Life Foundation Award For Alzheimer's Disease Research (1996)
  • Potamkin Prize For Research In Pick's, Alzheimer's And Related Diseases (1998)
  • First Pioneer Award from the Alzheimer's Association (1998)
  • ISI Highly Cited Researcher 2000 (most highly cited neuroscientists for 1997-2007)
  • The Stanley Cohen Biomedical Research Award of the University of Pennsylvania (2000)
  • Membership, Association of American Physicians (2000)
  • The 2004 Irving Wright Award of Distinction of the American Federation for Aging Research
  • 2005 Rous-Whipple Award of the American Society for Investigative Pathology
  • 24th Annual Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Foundation Award in Neuropsychiatry Research
  • Philadelphia's John Scott Award (2012)

Dr. Trojanowski was elected president of the American Association of Neuropathologists (1997-1998). Dr. Trojanowski was elected to the Institute of Medicine (2002), and he has served and continues to serve on local and national aging research committees including the NIA Neuroscience, Behavior and Sociology of Aging Study Section (1987-1991), the National Advisory Council on Aging (NACA) of the NIA (1994-1998), the NACA Working Group Chair (1996-1998), the Medical and Scientific Advisory Board of the National Alzheimer's Association (1994-1997), as well as for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association (1992- present), the NIA Board of Scientific Counselors (1998-2002), the Scientific Advisory Boards of the Paul Beeson Physician Faculty Scholars In Aging Award (1998-2002), the Alliance for Aging Research (2002-present), and the Association of Frontotemporal Dementia (2003-present), and the Organizing Committee of the International Conferences On Progress In Alzheimer's And Parkinson's Disease (2001-2010).

To help the public understand what is needed to cure and/or prevent disorders like AD, Dr. Trojanowski led an effort to prepare an educational film on healthy brain aging and AD ("Alzheimer's Disease: Facing the Facts") that aired on more than 80% of PBS outlets throughout 2009. This film won a 2008 CINE "Golden Eagle Award" and a 2009 Emmy Award for short documentary films.

Close section


Kurt Brunden, PhD

Kurt Brunden, PhD

Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine
Scientific Director, Marian S. Ware Alzheimer and Benaroya Parkinson's Disease Drug Discovery Programs
Faculty Profile


As Director of CNDR Drug Discovery, Dr. Brunden oversees a research team that is responsible for translating basic research discoveries made within CNDR into programs that will ultimately lead to new therapeutic treatments for neurodegenerative disease. This encompasses a variety of research activities, including further validation of drug targets, development of high-throughput assays to allow evaluation of small molecule compounds to such drug targets, in vitro and in vivo pharmacological characterization of active compounds identified during compound screening, and medicinal chemistry refinement of prototype lead compounds to improve drug efficacy, pharmacokinetics, and safety.

Close section