Albany Medical Center has an active research program in Parkinson's disease and movement disorders. Patients coming to our center may be presented with the option of participating in one or more ongoing research studies.
For example, one of our current research projects examines whether exercising to music improves gait for Parkinson’s disease patients. Patients receive a customized playlist of music and a sheet explaining the exercise movements to do at home. Another future study will assess whether a stress hormone (cortisol) is higher in Parkinson’s disease patients than in other people of the same age, what effect having depression and Parkinson’s has on stress hormone levels, and whether there are differences in response to antidepressant treatments because of these changes.
A very active research area focuses on how deep brain stimulation (DBS), one treatment option to relieve motor symptoms in Parkinson’s disease, can also improve non-motor symptoms. Data is currently being collected to see if DBS improves sleep quality, pain, autonomic dysfunction, impulsivity, and the way we process sensory information. Future studies will include an analysis of the cost effectiveness of DBS versus standard medical management of Parkinson’s disease, and isolating the best predictors of positive long-term outcomes.
We also have active research projects involving spinal cord stimulation and peripheral nerve stimulation. We are currently collecting information on how well these procedures improve pain, the settings being used by patients to maximize relief, and whether these improvements also lead to improvements in other symptoms such as depression. Future studies will address whether changing spinal cord stimulator frequency can change sensory thresholds, and how this type of stimulation impacts patterns of activity and rest.
Studies are always being added, so check back for more updates on our exciting research program!
The Center for Neuropharmacology and Neuroscience at Albany Medical College has an active preclinical research program. Many of these ongoing and future research projects will focus on movement disorders, particularly Parkinson's disease and its treatment.
One major area of study is how deep brain stimulation (DBS) improves motor symptoms in Parkinson's disease. DBS does change the basal ganglia circuit, a set of brain areas for movement that are impacted by Parkinson's disease, but that may not be the only way this treatment provides benefit. One current study investigates whether DBS recruits some of the same brain areas responsible for paradoxical kinesis in a rat model of Parkinson's. Paradoxical kinesis is the sudden ability of a patient with Parkinson's to move normally when faced with a threatening event, and controlled activation of that system could be a way to improve movement. Another current study examines whether DBS recruits the cerebellum, another motor area of the brain, to help improve movement. A future study will see if modulating the cerebellum can help improve gait difficulties and postural instability specifically.
Another set of studies examines whether gap junctions in the basal ganglia circuit are responsible for the pathological beta oscillations found in Parkinson's disease. Beta oscillations are rhythmic neural activity patterns occurring at 12-30 Hertz. In Parkinson's disease there is an overabundance of this synchronized signal in the basal ganglia, and it is associated with reduced motor preparation and less movement. There are several ways neurons could synchronize their activity to produce this signal, and one way is with gap junctions (channels allowing direct electrical connections between cells). So far, our studies have found that gap junctions do seem to be involved in producing the beta signal, and when we inactivate these gap junctions we both reduce beta oscillations and improve movement.
We are also investigating the occurrence and potential treatment of many non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Currently, we are examining dopamine dysregulation syndrome, which is the compulsive overuse of Parkinson's disease medications. If we can understand how this syndrome emerges, we can structure treatment plans to prevent this from occurring. In the future we will investigate how anxiety manifests in Parkinson's disease, and look for more effective treatment options. We will also examine the types of pain that can occur during the course of Parkinson's disease, and which treatment options are most effective for each type.
These preclinical studies help us build the foundation for future clinical studies, which ultimately lead to better treatment options for you. Check back for more updates on our recent research findings!