Research Team

Stanley H. Appel, MD, Lab Director
Dr. Appel is Chair of the Stanley H. Appel Department of Neurology, Co-Director of the Houston Methodist Neurological Institute and Professor of Neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College. He is also the Peggy and Gary Edwards Distinguished Endowed Chair for the Treatment and Research of ALS at the Houston Methodist Research Institute. He was previously Chair of the Department of Neurology at Baylor College of Medicine as well as Chief of the Neurology division and the James B. Duke Professor of Medicine at Duke University Medical Center, North Carolina. Dr. Appel is a native of Massachusetts and received his Bachelor Degree at Harvard University and his Medical Degree from Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. He is Director of the MDA/ALSA ALS Research and Clinical Center at Houston Methodist Neurological Institute, and past Director of a National Institute of Aging Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

Research Interests

  • Neurodegenerative diseases
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
  • Neuromuscular disorders

 

David R. Beers, PhD, Neuroscientist
Dr. David Beers’ research interests include the underlying mechanisms of neuroinflammation that contributes to neuron death in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and their relevant neuroprotective therapeutic targets. Current research efforts aim to understand the roles of microglia/monocytes and T lymphocytes on immune-mediated injury and repair in ALS and AD. Dr. Beers is investigating the neuroprotective potential of regulatory T lymphocytes as new cellular therapeutic options for ALS patients.  He is also interested in the pathology of various mutant proteins as well as abnormal peptides, and how they affect interactions among neurons, microglia, and T lymphocytes in neurodegenerative diseases.  Dr. Beers is Chairman if the Houston Methodist Hospital Research Institute’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), and is dedicated to the ethical treatment of research animals and the proper training of all investigators using animals in their research at the Houston Methodist Hospital Research Institute. Dr. Beers is a member of several professional societies, and is the author of a number published books and many peer reviewed manuscripts on topics such as ALS.

Research Interests

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Neuroprotection
  • Neuroinflammation
  • Neurotoxicity

 

Alireza Faridar, MD, Neurologist and Neuroscientist
Inflammation is a significant component of neurodegenerative disorder including Alzheimer’s disease. From his research during residency through to his current role as assistant professor of neurology, Dr. Faridar has assessed inflammatory signaling cascades in neurodegenerative process. One of his major contributions in this area is studying the status of the adaptive immune system in Alzheimer’s disease and its role as a potential therapeutic target. Regulatory T cells (Tregs) play a neuroprotective role by suppressing microglia/macrophage-mediated inflammation and modulating adaptive immune reactions. Dr. Faridar and his team observed that Tregs of Alzheimer’s disease patients lose their ability to suppress inflammation. However, these dysfunctional Tregs might be a restorable therapeutic target. Based on this finding, Dr. Faridar and his team are conducting a phase I/IIa study to assess the safety and potential efficacy of an in vivo Treg expansion strategy in Alzheimer’s disease patients with promising preliminary findings.

 

Jason R. Thonhoff, MD, PhD, Neurologist and Neuroscientist
Dr. Jason Thonhoff is a physician-scientist with expertise in neuromuscular diseases. His research focuses on the role of regulatory T cells (Tregs) in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The loss of Treg function is associated with acceleration of disease progression in ALS.  Dr. Thonhoff is exploring the mechanisms through which Treg function is lost in ALS and potential therapies aimed to enhance the neuroprotective function of Tregs. He is also investigating the use of autologous Treg infusions as a therapy for patients with ALS. In addition, he is involved in several clinical trials investigating novel treatments for patients with spinal muscular atrophy, myasthenia gravis, myotonic dystrophy and CIDP.

Research Interests

  • Neuromuscular disorders
  • Neurodegenerative diseases
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Myasthenia Gravis
  • Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP)
  • Muscular Dystrophy

 

Aaron D. Thome, PhD, Neuroscientist
Dr. Aaron Thome is a trained neuroimmunologist with a focus in neuroinflammation and neurodegenerative disease (Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS). He trained at the Center for Neurodegeneration and Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham followed by a postdoctoral fellowship under Stanley H. Appel, MD at the Houston Methodist Neurological Institute. He currently serves as an Assistant Research Professor of Neurology in the Stanley H. Appel Department of Neurology and Houston Methodist Research Institute. His current research involves elucidating the underlying inflammatory mechanisms (peripheral and central) in neurodegenerative diseases. His research utilizes clinical samples and pre-clinical models of disease to identify stage-specific immune changes in neurodegeneration with the goal of developing innovative immunomodulatory therapeutics for the treatment of neurodegenerative disease.

Research Interests

  • Neuroinflammation
  • Neurodegenerative disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease

 

Weihua Zhao, MD, PhD, Neuroscientist
Dr. Weihua Zhao is interested in the underlying mechanisms of neuroinflammation on motor neuron death and relevant therapeutic targets. Current research efforts aim to understand the roles of microglia/monocytes and T-cells on immune-mediated injury and repair in ALS. Dr. Zhao is investigating the neuroprotective potential of regulatory immune cells as new therapeutic options for ALS, and leads the cell therapy team on the manufacturing of expanded human Tregs in clinical trials. One focus is to integrate world-class technology and scientific application to clinical trial design and process development and improve Treg manufacture productivity and efficiency without compromising compliance standards of quality and Good Manufacturing Practices. Dr. Zhao also interests in exploring the synergistic effects of expanded Tregs with small molecule compounds on the main pro-inflammatory sources in ALS, which would help to determine future directions of clinical trials.

Research Interests

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Neuroprotection
  • Neuroinflammation
  • Neurotoxicity

 

Research Assistants

  • Hui Xuan
  • Jinghong Wang
  • Shixiang Wen, BS
  • Aiping Gao
  • David Vo