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2017 Investigator-Initiated Projects
Browse summaries of the research grants supported by the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, a division of the Parkinson’s Foundation, in 2017. Stay tuned for additional announcements throughout the year.
Translational Research Grants | $500,000
Aim to ease difficulties related to cognition, sleep and fatigue in Parkinson’s, topics selected as part of the our Community Choice Research Awards.
[+] Impact of a Novel Exercise Intervention on Executive Function and Sleep in People with Parkinson's
Amy Amara, M.D., Ph.D., University of Alabama at Birmingham
For many people, nonmotor symptoms such as cognitive difficulties and sleep problems, can be more disabling than motor symptoms. Currently-available medications are either ineffective in treating cognition and sleep or offer unwanted side effects. Other therapeutic options such as exercise are known to improve the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s, but have not been fully explored for cognition and sleep. This study will examine the impact of a 16-week exercise program, compared to no-exercise, on cognition and sleep in Parkinson’s. Before and after the program, participants will undergo cognitive and sleep testing to measure any changes. The goal of this research is to identify an exercise program that will improve cognition and sleep in people with Parkinson’s.
[+] Remotely-supervised Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) for At-home Treatment of Fatigue and Cognitive Slowing in Parkinson’s Disease
Milton Biagioni, M.D., New York University
Currently, there are no effective treatments available for fatigue and slowed thinking, both of which are common symptoms in Parkinson’s. This study is testing an at-home brain stimulation device, along with cognitive training, to see if the dual-therapy can ease both symptoms. The stimulation, called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a low-cost, relatively safe noninvasive brain stimulation technique that can be used at home. The cognitive training sessions are computer-based exercises designed to strengthen cognitive abilities. The study will offer the therapies online, using telemedicine, enabling people who have trouble getting to the clinic to participate from home. The results will help us to understand if the treatment works and will guide future brain stimulation research to validate this therapy for fatigue and slowed thinking.
[+] Goal-directed Behavior in Parkinson's Disease
Nabila Dahodwala, M.D., University of Pennsylvania
Cognitive impairment and apathy are common symptoms that can be disabling for people with Parkinson’s and their care partners. Our hypothesis is that people may experience both symptoms, as a result of fewer “goal-directed behaviors.” Goal-directed behaviors are activities done with purpose (for example, reading a book) versus habits or reactions, such as automatically laughing at a joke. This study will test a new way of measuring goal-directed behavior in Parkinson’s. It will also use brain imaging to observe brain changes that occur when people experience apathy and cognitive impairment. The hope is that the study will shed light on the mechanisms underlying apathy and cognition in PD, and help in more easily diagnosing them. This knowledge ultimately will allow for the development of targeted treatments for people with Parkinson’s.
[+] Multi-modal Neuroimaging of Fatigue in Parkinson’s Disease
Hengyi Rao, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania
Fatigue is a common symptom of Parkinson’s and a major contributor to stress and disability. However, because we know so little about its biological causes, it is difficult to find ways to prevent and manage it. This study will use neuroimaging to observe the brain changes underlying fatigue in Parkinson’s. It will also explore the use of blue light as a potential treatment. A therapy that exposes the eyes to blue light has been shown to decrease daytime sleepiness in people with traumatic brain injuries. It will study whether the therapy, by increasing blood flow in the brain, may also be beneficial for easing fatigue in people with Parkinson’s.
[+] Double-blind, Randomised, Cross-over, Pilot Study of Cannabidiol in People with Parkinson’s and RBD Sleep Disorder
Renata Riha, M.D., University of Edinburgh
Many people with Parkinson’s who have rapid eye movement behaviour disorder (RBD), a sleep disorder in which people experience violent movements (e.g., punching, kicking), during sleep, also suffer from fatigue and daytime sleepiness. We will test cannabidiol (CBD), one of the 100+ active ingredients in marijuana, to see if it can help people with Parkinson’s who experience RBD. For the first three months, participants will be randomly assigned to receive either CBD or a placebo. After three months, the groups will switch — those who took CBD will take the placebo and vice versa. At the beginning of the study, and at three and six months, participants will undergo several assessments, including an in-home sleep study to assess limb movements during sleep, blood and urine tests, and questionnaires regarding sleep, mood, symptoms and impact on care partners. The hope is that the results will show whether CBD can help to improve sleep and quality of life for individuals with Parkinson’s and their families. The results of this trial will inform clinical practice and allow for future clinical trials.