Information about studies

    Our lab receives funding from various sources. Currently, we receive funding from the the Veterans Administration (VA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

    The University of Michigan has been awarded an NIH-funded grant to establish the Morris K. Udall Parkinson's Disease Research Center of Excellence at the University of Michigan. The new University of Michigan Udall Center will conduct research studies to examine, in close detail, faulty mechanisms in the brain that may underlie gait and balance abnormalities in persons with Parkinson's disease (PD). Balance and gait problems may cause severe impairment for people with PD, significantly affecting their quality of life. Research has shown that several changes occur in the brains of PD patients. The hallmark change is a loss of a neurotransmitter ('chemical messenger' between brain cells) called dopamine. To alleviate PD symptoms doctors prescribe dopamine replacement therapy, for example Sinemet (levodopa). Although effective for some of the symptoms, dopamine replacement therapy typically does not sufficiently alleviate balance and gait problems, including falls. Our previous research studies have suggested that a loss of acetylcholine may be related to impaired balance and gait function in PD. Research has also shown that some PD patients, not all, have a loss of acetylcholine. The Udall Center research studies will be taking a closer look at these findings by studying the association between acetylcholine and balance and gait issues that persons with PD may experience. To do so, study participants will undergo a brain imaging technique called PET (Positron Emission Tomography) that allows researchers to assess the levels and the distribution of dopamine and acetylcholine in the brain. We will then relate these PET imaging findings to clinical findings of balance and gait functions. In addition to the brain imaging study, the Udall Center will also conduct a study that will examine the short-term effects (one week) of a low dose of a drug called varenicline on balance and gait functions. Varenicline affects the cholinergic neurotransmitter system in the brain. Participants will be asked to participate in one or when interested and eligible in the additional varenicline sub-project. Participants who do not live in the Ann Arbor area can receive compensation for travel expenses and overnight lodging.

The NIH-funded project  directed by Dr. Bohnen "Modulation of GABA-A receptors and axial motor impairments in Parkinson disease" (ClinicalTrials.gov identifier NCT03440112 ) has a focus on the neurotransmitter GABA and its role in balance and gait problems, such as freezing of gait, in PD. Our research group has a long-standing interest in studying symptoms of Parkinson's disease (PD) that may not respond well to dopaminergic medications, such as carbidopa-levodopa (Sinemet). These features include difficulties with walking and balance like falls and freezing of gait, daytime excessive sleepiness and memory and thinking problems. While the chemical messenger molecule, dopamine, has been extensively studied in PD, we are looking at other chemical messenger molecules that may change in the brain in people with PD, such as acetylcholine and GABA.  Animal studies of PD suggest that one of the reasons why people with PD have difficulties with balance and gait is that GABA is excessively blocking the outgoing connections of the basal ganglia (movement centers) in the brain. Therefore, the use of medications that may slightly decrease these excessive blocking functions may help people with PD to move better. Our lab is looking at drugs that are already approved by the FDA for other indications that may calm down the excessive GABA blocking functions in the brain. 

Scalp cooling research.

Changes in brain temperature may occur in neurological conditions, such as PD or multiple sclerosis (MS). Our lab is studying whether scalp cooling either during the daytime or at night may be of benefit to patients with MS. We having ongoing studies where study participants come in for brief sessions to scalp cooling. Clinical, motor, balance and cognitive testing will be performed and after the cooling sessions.

Stand-up desk research

The University of Michigan and VA Ann Arbor Medical Center have been awarded a grant to study 'dynamic standing' as a novel means of non-exercise physical activity in PD. Due to movement and balance problems, PD patients may favor a sitting, or sedentary lifestyle; physical inactivity, in turn, results in a downward spiral of movement problems. Ongoing physical fitness should be strongly recommended to PD patients who are at risk of physical deconditioning, balance problems, and a fear of falling. There have been recent initiatives to 'Stand Up, Sit Less, and Move More' in the PD community. Investigators at the University of Michigan have developed a novel way of standing ('dynamic standing') that enhances standing by promoting movements. In this project, persons with PD will participate in 12 half-day sessions that will involve routine desktop physical activities such as computer use, watching movies, reading, or playing games. Clinical and motor testing will be performed before and after the completion of the standing or control sessions. Selected subjects may be eligible for additional brain MRI scans or glucose function tests. This study will be conducted in collaboration with the University of Michigan Mobility Research Center.

    Please note that the research studies conducted in our lab are not identical.  Our research participants will not be required to perform the entire array of tests that our lab administers. 

    If you would like to participate in either of these studies and would like more detailed information regarding specific protocols, please click on the links below or contact our lab.