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UMass Neurological Surgery News

March 2021

Innovative neurosurgical technique used in Tay-Sachs gene therapy clinical trial

When the first patient in a new clinical trial was given a gene therapy targeting infantile Tay-Sachs and Sandhoff diseases in January, an innovative procedure that represents a “new frontier for neurosurgery” was used to deliver the therapeutic.

The trial, by Sio Gene Therapies (formerly known as Axovant), is an open-label, two-stage, clinical study designed to evaluate safety and dose-escalation and safety and efficacy of surgical delivery of AXO-AAV-GM2 to the brain and spinal cord of trial participants with infantile or juvenile GM2 gangliosidosis. Sio licensed exclusive worldwide rights from UMass Chan Medical School for the development and commercialization of gene therapy programs for GM1 gangliosidosis and GM2 gangliosidosis, including Tay-Sachs and Sandhoff diseases.

Oguz Cataltepe, MD, professor of neurological surgery, whose pediatric neurosurgery team delivered the therapy in this trial, said that typically, conventional drug delivery techniques have significant limitations in the distribution of therapeutic agents into the central nervous system. The biggest obstacle is what is known as the blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain by preventing a drug from fully reaching brain tissue. And a commonly chosen approach, delivering a drug into cerebral spinal fluid spaces using lumbar puncture or intraventricular delivery techniques, also has limited penetration and effects on the brain tissue itself.  Read More

February 2021

Research by Mark Johnson provides insights into origins of idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus

A UMass Chan Medical School neurosurgery research team has unlocked a genetic component underlying a mysterious brain disorder known as idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus (iNPH), a condition whose symptoms are often mistakenly attributed to Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease, or simply old age.

The research by Mark D. Johnson, MD, PhD, the Maroun Semaan Chair in Neurosurgery and chair and professor of neurological surgery, and colleagues, was published Jan. 18 online in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine. An additional commentary regarding the article appeared in the journal’s News and Views section. Read More

September 2020

Innovative Neurosurgical Technique used in Tay-Sachs Gene Therapy Clinical Trial
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Oguz Cataltepe, MD
, neurosurgeon from UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Massachusetts uses robotic tools to assist in a brain procedure on an epilepsy patient.
View Boston 25 News video


May 2020

Congratulations Mark D. Johnson, MD, PhD

Congratulations to Dr. Johnson for being elected to Active Membership in The Society of Neurological Surgeons! The “Senior Society” is dedicated to enhancing the quality of neurosurgical education.  The Society of Neurological Surgeons is the leadership organization for neurosurgical educators.

Worcester saw 8.5% increase in excess deaths in March amid coronavirus pandemic, UMass Memorial researchers find

By Melissa Hanson |

5/06/2020:  Researchers from UMass Memorial have noticed an increase in deaths in Worcester for the month of March compared to last year, coinciding with a decreased amount of emergency room visits amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
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This media report is based on a manuscript which has been submitted for publication.
Factors Contributing to Excess Deaths Occurring at Home During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Rrita Daci, MD; Celina Crisman, MD, MPH; Michael Hirsh, MD; Marciana Johnson; Sharina Person, PhD; Catarina Kiefe MD, PhD; Mark D. Johnson MD, PhD


Mark D. Johnson, MD, PhD, Newest Addition to Sontag Foundation Scientific Advisory Board

The Sontag Foundation Appoints Four New Members To Join Scientific Advisory Board

5/14/2020:  The Sontag Foundation, one of the largest funders of brain tumor research in the United States, announces the appointment of four leading experts to its Scientific Advisory Board: Dr. Suzanne Baker, Dr. Bradley Bernstein, Dr. Timothy Chan, and Dr. Mark Johnson
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