Miller named GRA Distinguished Investigator

Gary Miller

Gary Miller will use funding from the Georgia Research Alliance to secure an imaging system to screen for chemicals that may help protect the brain from Parkinson’s disease.

The Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) has named Gary Miller as a 2012 Distinguished Investigator.

Miller, associate dean for research and Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Environmental Health at Rollins, is one of only six researchers so named in the organization’s 22-year history.

GRA’s distinguished investigator program supports scientists who are considered rising stars in their fields of study. The designation, which includes a monetary award, encourages universities to retain outstanding talent and invest in the infrastructure and technology needed to advance research toward commercialization.

“This designation is rarely given for good reason,” says Susan Shows, senior vice president of GRA. “We initiate programs that display promise to cultivate a researcher who is of major value to the mission of their university as well as the state of Georgia.”

The $500,000, five-year award from GRA encourages experts from academia and industry to advance discovery that positions Georgia as a leading state for science- and technology-based economic development. By nominating Miller for the award and matching GRA’s investment, Emory raises its profile as a leader in emerging technologies in vaccines and therapeutics.

Miller, a neurotoxicologist, directs the Emory Parkinson’s Disease Collaborative Research Center, involving scientists from other disciplines in and outside of Rollins. He is widely known for his research on the impact of toxins on Parkinson’s and has created a unique mouse model to develop biomarkers of exposure, risk, and early disease. He also is using the mouse model to test whether a novel therapeutic agent can restore function to the area of the brain damaged by Parkinson’s.

The disease occurs when the brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine begin to waste away, for reasons unknown. Without sufficient dopamine, the nerve cells cannot properly send messages, leading to eventual loss of muscle function.

With the GRA endowment, Miller will be able to secure a high-content imaging system to screen a large library of chemicals. The goal is to identify compounds that may protect the brain and even restore motor and non-motor functions in Parkinson’s patients.

“It would be great to improve the storage and transport of dopamine for Parkinson’s therapies, but we’ll be just as excited to find compounds to be used in treating addiction, depression, or other disorders,” says Miller. “The support from GRA significantly complements what we already are doing in drug discovery. To be given an opportunity to generate intellectual property that economically impacts the research enterprise is highly motivating.”—Tarvis Thompson-Pace

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