Skip to Content

NorthShore Neurologist Aims to Unravel DNA Mysteries

A “moral imperative to innovate” is how Demetrius M. (Jim) Maraganore, MD, Chairman of NorthShore’s Department of Neurology, describes his department’s mission to improve neurological health.

“There are too many riddles that we can not solve. We recognize that research is the engine that drives innovation and will allow us to develop methods to predict, prevent and halt neurological disease,” said Dr. Maraganore, the Ruth Cain Ruggles Chair, Co-Director of NorthShore Neurological Institute and on faculty at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

That imperative has given birth to a major research initiative—The DodoNA Project: DNA Prediction to Improve Neurological Health. Supported with an initial commitment of $1 million from The Auxiliary of NorthShore at Evanston and Glenbrook Hospitals, this sweeping endeavor aims to identify “DNA fingerprints” that predict adverse outcomes and therapeutic responses in patients with neurological disorders.

“DodoNA” references the oldest oracle of ancient Greece located at Dodona, where priestesses and priests would interpret the rustling leaves of a sacred oak tree to predict the future. “Just as at Dodona, we can interpret subtle variations in DNA— the tree of life—to predict outcomes and individualize therapies for our patients,” said Dr. Maraganore. “Through DNA as prophecy, we will cheat DNA as destiny.”

DodoNA will study 11 neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), stroke, migraine, epilepsy, sleep disorders, multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, brain injury and autism. The initiative will enroll 1,000 patients in each of 11 studies and involve NorthShore’s vast team of neurological experts, as well as collaboration with colleagues at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

The research will leverage NorthShore’s nationally recognized Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system, explained Dr. Maraganore, and will involve building “Smart Forms” to collect standardized clinical data at routine patient visits. The data will be stored in the NorthShore Research Institute’s newly constructed “data warehouse.” Patients’ blood and DNA samples will be stored in a new biobank, which scientists will access to perform automated biochemical tests to define genotypes.

Patients already enrolled in the study have provided positive feedback on the thoroughness of their initial exam. “At the very least, we are collecting more standardized data about these patients’ health, which ultimately improves the quality of care and information we can provide for them,” Dr. Maraganore said.

Dr. Maraganore, whose own research focuses on Parkinson’s disease, has reason to be optimistic about this far-reaching study. His research—which first began at Mayo Clinic where he led a large, multidisciplinary, National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded team for 15 years before coming to NorthShore—has already made great progress, including several genetic discoveries related to Parkinson’s. His work has resulted in three patent applications and two licensed inventions, including methods to predict and treat Parkinson’s disease.

To learn more about membership in The Auxiliary of NorthShore at Evanston and Glenbrook Hospitals, please call 847.492.5700 (Ext. 1269).