They Chose OHSU: Vivek Unni, M.D., Ph.D.

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Neuroscience
July 25, 2018
Vivek Unni, M.D., Ph.D.

Part of our ‘They Chose OHSU’ blog series. They could have gone anywhere, and chose OHSU. These accomplished scientists, promising students and leading clinicians were convinced they could do their best work at OHSU. Here, according to each of them, is why.

Vivek Unni, M.D., Ph.D., joined the Department of Neurology and the OHSU Parkinson Center and Movement Disorders Program in 2011. An associate professor, Unni also has an appointment and laboratory space in OHSU’s Jungers Center. Before coming to OHSU, Unni was an instructor in neurology and a research fellow in the laboratory of noted Alzheimer's researcher Bradley Hyman at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. Unni earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford and an M.D. and a Ph.D. in neuroscience at Columbia University. He completed a neurology residency and movement disorders fellowship at Brigham & Women’s Hospital/Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. 

"I was drawn to OHSU because it had a well-established clinical group studying Parkinson’s disease. Joseph Quinn and Jay Nutt (current and former directors of OHSU’s Parkinson Center, respectively) have really built the group into a world-class Parkinson’s center, and there was a lot of opportunity for someone like me, who was interested in basic science research in Parkinson’s.

“As part of my recruitment to OHSU, through a joint effort between the neurology department, the School of Medicine, the anesthesia department and money from the Benaroya Foundation, they were able to buy a sophisticated two-photon microscope that I needed for my research. It allows you to look more deeply into the brain of a living animal in a way that no other technology allows.

“I contacted several places when I was looking for jobs and the fact that OHSU was so willing to purchase this expensive piece of equipment told me volumes. Not very many places have the vision and the resources to do that.

“One of the great things about OHSU is that they support scientists, and that translates into intellectual freedom — especially as a younger faculty member getting started. You get to do what you think is important.

“My research focuses on a specific protein in the brain that forms something called Lewy bodies, which are associated with cell death in Parkinson’s patients. But we don’t know much about what Lewy bodies actually do. Do they cause cells to die, or are they a defensive reaction that protects them? Or is it neutral — just a biomarker that the cell is sick? That’s a big, overarching question in the field. If we could learn more about that, it may be possible to find people who are going to develop Parkinson’s, even before they have problems. If we had a drug that could stop Parkinson's disease at that time point, or very early on in the disease, it would be revolutionary.”

“One of the great things about OHSU is that they support scientists, and that translates into intellectual freedom — especially as a younger faculty member getting started. You get to do what you think is important."

Category: Neuroscience

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Phoebe Lin, M.D., Ph.D.
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They Chose OHSU: Darla Vang, M.P.H.

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