The University of Michigan has been awarded a five-year, $11.7 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke to re-establish a Morris K. Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson’s Disease Research.
The U-M team of clinician-researchers is led by Roger Albin, Anne B. Young Collegiate Professor of Neurology, co-director of the Movement Disorders Division, and director of the U-M Parkinson’s Foundation Research Center of Excellence.
NINDS previously funded the U-M Udall Center from 2015-20. There are five Udall Centers nationwide, established in memory of the late U.S. Rep. Morris K. Udall of Arizona, who died from Parkinson’s disease in 1998.
Up to 70 percent of patients with Parkinson disease fall each year, quadrupling the rate of hip fractures, leading to extended hospitalizations, increased use of skilled nursing facilities and eventual nursing home placement and increasing the risk of death.
U-M scientists developed evidence that falls and related gait problems, resistant to currently available treatments, arise from degeneration of brain cells that use the neurochemical messenger acetylcholine. Brain acetylcholine deficits likely contribute to cognitive deficits in Parkinson’s patients and impair the integration of cognitive functions with motor performance.
This grant funds four interrelated projects designed to better understand the relationship between falls, other gait problems, cognitive impairments, and deficits of different populations of brain acetylcholine cells.
The U-M Udall Center research team is an interactive and productive group of investigators from disciplines that include neurology, radiology, psychology and biostatistics.
Participants led by U-M investigators Nicolaas Bohnen, professor of radiology and neurology, and Kirk Frey, David E. Kuhl Collegiate Professor of Radiology and Neurology, use novel brain-imaging methods to show that the loss of various types of brain cells is strongly associated with falls, other gait problems and cognitive deficits, loss of the ability to pay close attention to one’s movements and environment, and impairment of the perception of other forms of information important for movement.
In closely related animal model work, the specific circuits underlying these problems are being investigated by investigator Martin Sarter, Charles M. Butter Collegiate Professor of Psychology, casting light on how attentional information is integrated with movement mechanisms to produce gait coordination.
Albin uses brain-imaging methods to probe how loss of acetylcholine cells causes cognitive deficits and may identify a group of Parkinson’s subjects at risk for faster progression. In parallel work, Omar Ahmed, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience and biomedical engineering, is studying cellular mechanisms of acetylcholine signaling in spatial navigation.
These projects are supported by a team of biostatisticians and data analysts, led by F. DuBois Bowman, dean of the School of Public Health, and Cathie Spino, professor of biostatistics. Prabesh Kanel, research investigator in radiology, and Robert Koeppe, professor of radiology, direct application of new imaging methods. Parkinson’s disease outreach efforts are led by Kelvin Chou, co-director of the Surgical Therapies Improving Movement Program, and co-director of the Movement Disorders Division.