Digging deeper: our stories

Better diagnosis and drug delivery

There is no test for detecting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) before obvious symptoms develop. Yet, this is the time — before major symptoms are seen — when treatments could be most effective. Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center researchers have teamed up to accelerate the search for a diagnostic tool for ALS.


Robert Brown at Harvard Medical School collaborated with the staff physicist at the NeuroDiscovery Center’s Imaging Facility to develop tiny particles (nanoparticles) that, when injected in the body, stick to nerve cells. The researchers developed methods to detect the nanoparticles in living mice using magnetic resonance imaging. They then observed differences in the activities of nerve cells in normal mice compared to mice with ALS.

The work could lead to the development of a new diagnostic tool for detecting ALS before any clinical symptoms arise. The method could also be a starting point for using the nanoparticles to deliver drugs directly to nerve cells.

About the Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center

Established in 2001 by Dr. Joseph Martin (Dean of Harvard Medical School, 1997-2007), the Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center is a pioneering biomedical research group focused on ending suffering from neurodegenerative diseases. By drawing on the intellectual strength and proven capability of the Harvard medical community and colleagues throughout the world, the NeuroDiscovery Center has developed a unique approach to understanding and treating these devastating diseases. 

Our focus:

  • Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and other degenerative diseases of the brain.

  • Combining academic creativity with a business-like approach to ensure a focused and efficient effort to advance the search for cures.

  • Accelerating the pace of progress, from scientific discoveries to meaningful patient treatments.

  • Real collaboration across the Harvard Medical community, prominent research centers worldwide and the private sector.

  • Applying discoveries about one neurodegenerative disease to better understand the others. 

Whereas our ultimate goal is simple — to improve the lives of the millions who face the physical, emotional, and economic burden of neurodegenerative diseases — these diseases represent a far too complex and urgent problem for any one group to tackle. To date, we have engaged over 800 researchers in a growing portfolio of outcome-directed research programs. For visionary philanthropists and scientists, participation in the Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center's work offers the best hope for progress — please join us!

As of December 2010, the Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center has 934 members from various institutions within the Medical area. The chart below lists the primary affiliations of our members: