Neuroscience research at HMRI is focused on discovering underlying causes, diagnostic tests, and improved treatments for human brain disorders. Study participants form the core of this research, supplemented with pre-clinical models to test new treatments.

Brain disorders affect over half of the American population and not knowing the underlying cause or cure for any of them presents an enormous challenge. New technologies, however, have potential to make substantial progress, and we embrace these in our work. The expertise of HMRI’s neuroscientists combines detailed clinical assessments, brain physiology measures, analytical biochemistry, and the development of implantable devices to improve nervous system function. Neuroscientists and staff work closely with HMRI cardiovascular, stem cell, immunology, and imaging scientists, and also feed on stimulating interactions with other scientific groups within HMRI.

HMRI neuroscience groups include Molecular Neurology and Neural Engineering.

Molecular Neurology

Aging Brain and Alzheimer’s disease

Getting older doesn’t mean getting dementia. We are committed to developing a simple test for Alzheimer’s and dementia long before symptoms occur.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills; it affects over five million Americans and creates chronic stress on families watching a loved one slowly decline.

Dr. Michael Harrington and the neuroscience group have detected adverse Alzheimer’s -like chemistry in study volunteers that have not yet developed symptoms. The Alzheimer’s-like chemistry can predict future development of dementia. Their goal is to develop a simple urine test to screen for the disease and discover underlying causes, which will allow for effective treatment.

Migraine Studies

Having chronic headaches can literally be a headache in your life. Our study actively recruits study participants who suffer from migraine.

Migraine affects 12% of the adult US population. Its cause is unknown and treatment methods are not satisfactory, it causes major disability, and impacts jobs and productivity. Dr. Harrington’s group has found a common pathway, brain sodium regulation, that governs who gets migraine, and when and why they get it. The goal is to develop treatments to stop the wild swings of sodium that occur with migraine and bring relief.

Neural Engineering

A New Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).

OSA is a common disorder in which there is repeated obstruction of the upper airway during sleep, resulting in the inability to breathe, and causing people to wake up and have restless sleep. OSA greatly increases the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, and causes sleepiness during the waking hours. HMRI is developing a novel treatment for OSA that causes the user to develop new reflexes that prevent the tongue from falling backwards in their mouth during sleep so that it does not obstruct their airway.

Microelectrodes for Treating Neurologic Disorders.

Therapeutic electrical stimulation (TES), by implanting microelectrodes in the brain and spinal column, has been shown to be effective in treating Parkinson’s Disease, epilepsy, chronic pain, and deafness. However, problems may develop at the interface of the electrode and nerve tissue including swelling and scarring. The impact on human health: therapies aimed at improving the health at the interface of the electrodes and tissue will improve the function of the electrodes and ultimately improve the health of the patient.

Advanced Imaging Research


New technologies are allowing us to explore the brain and heart as never before. We are entering a new era of multidisciplinary research to better understand diseases of the heart and brain.

Aging Study

Using the MR machine, we have a brain stress test available at only a handful of MR centers, that measures damage to blood vessels in the brain as people age. This blood vessel damage may contribute to dementia. If we can identify this damage with our test, there are known treatments that we can apply to help blood vessels work better, that may ultimately help prevent dementia. Using MRS we measure chemicals in the brain that can help predict who is at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease prior to onset of symptoms. Early identification of Alzheimer’s changes is vital to determine who may benefit from future preventive therapies.

HIV/Aging Studies

Treatment for HIV has significantly improved the quality of life for patients but even with treatment many show accelerated brain aging. This may result in a future epidemic of dementia among the chronic survivors of HIV.  We are studying whether damage to the brain blood vessels in HIV is damaging the brain.  Therapies that are known to improve blood vessel function may help prevent dementia.