UPMC Movement Disorders Expert Named to Parkinson Foundation Board of Directors

By: Arvind Suresh

Dr. Mark Richardson, assistant professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and director of Epilepsy and Movement Disorders Surgery at UPMC, has been named to the board of directors of the Parkinson Foundation of Western Pennsylvania.

Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that leads to symptoms that include shaking and difficulty with walking, movement and coordination. Richardson is a neurosurgeon-neuroscientist who specializes in the use of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) and gene therapy for movement dysfunctions commonly seen in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

“Mark [Richardson] is an outstanding clinician researcher, and a nationally recognized leader in the field of movement disorders,” said Dr. Robert Friedlander, Walter E. Dandy Professor and chair of neurological surgery at Pitt’s School of Medicine. “He is passionate about improving the lives of patients, and the Parkinson’s community will benefit greatly from his presence on the board of the foundation.”

Richardson started the interventional-MRI DBS program at UPMC, which involves a new method of performing DBS inside an MRI scanner while the patient is under anesthesia. This allows the surgeon to see real-time images of the brain that help guide the placement of the electrodes that are implanted in the area of the brain responsible for abnormal movement.

In February 2016, Richardson and his colleagues began testing the use of gene therapy to relieve the symptoms of tremor and mobility impairment in patients with Parkinson’s disease as part of a clinical trial. The technique shows promise in prolonging the effectiveness of levo-dopa, the mainstay treatment for the progressive neurodegenerative condition, by increasing production of a key enzyme essential to convert the drug into the neurotransmitter dopamine.

More recently, he was awarded a three year $3.3 million grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to lead a multi-institutional research study to understand how speech is controlled in the brain. The study was funded as part of the NIH’s BRAIN Initiative launched by former President Barack Obama as a large-scale effort to understand the brain and apply the knowledge to treating a variety brain disorders.

Richardson received his undergraduate education at the University of Virginia. He completed his medical and doctoral education in the MD/PhD program at the Medical College of Virginia. Prior to joining the faculty at Pitt in 2011, Richardson completed his neurosurgical residency at the University of California, San Francisco, where he received specialized training in epilepsy neurosurgery, DBS and brain mapping during awake craniotomies, and was awarded a NIH National Research Service Award to study gene therapy for Parkinson’s disease.