The primary research focus of Dennis W. Dickson, M.D., is the neuropathologic characterization of brains from prospective and longitudinal research studies sponsored by the National Institute on Aging.
Brains come from the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (NIA P50 AG16574), the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging (NIA U01 AG06786), and the Einstein Aging Study at Albert Einstein College of Medicine (NIA P01 AG03949). These studies, which differ in patient characteristics, include elderly community volunteers and recruits from population-based sampling.
Fixed and frozen brain samples are obtained at autopsy and used for diagnostic evaluations and research with neurohistology, immunohistochemistry, electron microscopy and image analysis, and immunoassays.
Dr. Dickson is part of a team of internationally recognized researchers and clinicians with specialty training in Parkinson's disease and movement disorders supported by the American Parkinson Disease Association. Mayo Clinic has been designated an American Parkinson Disease Center for Advanced Research.
- Genetic studies. Genetic studies are an increasingly important aspect of neuropathologic research as new genes and genetic risk factors are discovered for Alzheimer's disease and the other major neurodegenerative disorders. Genetic studies are performed on brain-derived DNA by Mayo Clinic collaborators, including Rosa Rademakers, Ph.D.; Owen A. Ross, Ph.D.; Nilufer Ertekin-Taner, M.D., Ph.D.; Steven G. Younkin, M.D., Ph.D.; and investigators at other institutions.
- Non-Alzheimer's degenerative diseases. Another major focus is on non-Alzheimer's degenerative diseases, including Lewy body dementia, which is a common age-related cause of dementia and parkinsonism. Research on Lewy body dementia is supported by the Harry T. Mangurian Jr. Foundation. Brains of Parkinson's disease are from patients enrolled in the Udall Center of Excellence for Parkinson's Disease Research at Mayo Clinic (NINDS P50 NS72187), which is directed by Dr. Dickson.
- Disorders in tau pathology. Dr. Dickson has studied disorders with tau pathology in collaboration with Shu-Hui C. Yen, Ph.D., a colleague at Mayo Clinic in Florida, for more than two decades. The major tauopathies studied are corticobasal degeneration, progressive supranuclear palsy, Pick's disease, and frontotemporal dementia linked to tau mutations. Many such cases are obtained through the CurePSP/Society for Progressive Supranuclear Palsy Brain Bank at Mayo Clinic in Florida, which Dr. Dickson supervises.
- ALS and frontotemporal degeneration with TDP-43 pathology. More recently, neuropathologic research has focused on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease) and frontotemporal degeneration with TDP-43 pathology. Transgenic mice that model Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders are also studied as part of efforts to better understand these disorders and develop new treatments.
Significance to patient care
In addition to providing a final neuropathology diagnosis for brains in the brain bank, which provides closure to the family and feedback to the physicians involved in antemortem care of the patient, these studies aim to understand the molecular pathology of neurodegenerative disorders that will lead to better diagnosis, treatment and eventually prevention of these devastating disorders.
- Potamkin Prize for Research in Pick's, Alzheimer's and Related Diseases, American Academy of Neurology, 2011
- Award for Medical Research, Metropolitan Life, 2001
- Past President, American Association of Neuropathologists