Research

The UF Center for Movement Disorders & Neurorestoration investigates treatments for and causes of Parkinson’s Disease, PSP/atypical parkinsonism, tics, tremor, dystonia, Huntington’s Disease and other disorders. The interdisciplinary disciplinary approach at the UF Center for Movement Disorders & Neurorestoration brings together top researchers from multiple fields.

Clinical Research

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials look into the safety and efficacy of a drug in improving symptoms or slowing/stopping/reversing the progression of a disease. Most drugs tested in clinical trials are not yet available in drug stores while some studies involve medications that are already available. Neuroprotective drugs may provide great benefit to those with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders.  UF under the leadership of Ramon Rodriguez has one of the largest fully integrated clinical trials programs in the country. The staff and facility are on site and have dedicated exam room space so that patients can be seen on the same day as for clinical care in any one of 10 specialities. Additionally the clinical trials center performs behavioral research (e.g. exercise, swallowing) and surgical research (e.g. DBS).  Many important trials have been performed in this center including NIH COMPARE DBS, treatment of the masked face, expiratory muscle strength training, exercise of PD, as well as the NIH neuroprotective trials (NET-PD).

Deep Brain Stimulation Research

Drs. Foote and Okun together with a large interdisciplinary team- implant Deep Brain Stimulators that can change the rates and patterns of activity in one or more of many targets including the thalamus, subthalamic nucleus, globus pallidus, internal capsule, nucleus accumbens, and other brain regions. The UF Center for Movement Disorders & Neurorestoration is exploring the cognitive, behavioral, and mood effects of brain stimulation and researching the use of Deep Brain Stimulation to treat patients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Tourette syndrome.  The center is world renown for its cutting edge and pioneering research and technologies.  Over the last 10 years the UF Center for Movement Disorders is in the top 5 in the world in production of research on DBS and electrical therapies and has been involved in all major DBS brain targets and disorders (e.g. PD, tremor, OCD, dystonia, Tourette, others).  Dr. Okun’s laboratory has recently turned its attention to Tourette syndrome and unlocking human tic physiology, and Dr. Foote has taken on MS tremor.

Behavior and Emotion Research

The Bowers Laboratory is an interdisciplinary cognitive neuroscience research laboratory involved in the study of cognitive and affective behaviors in humans and the neural systems that underlie them. Participants include patients with Parkinson’s disease, parkinsonism, dystonia and other movement disorders.  This laboratory is world renowned for its efforts to better characterize the psychophysiology associated with disease (smiles, facial expression, sweating, autonomic features, etc.).  Several major revelations for the field have emerged from their work including the first descriptions of stimulation induced smiles, and the first recognition of apathy as important in Parkinson’s disease.

Clinical Research Database

With permission from patients, the UF Center for Movement Disorders & Neurorestoration tracks the progress of each patient’s treatment as measured with several scales covering motor and non-motor areas. That information is entered into a central database that is used to find patterns in the data and to find patients that meet certain criteria for studies.  99% of all patients in the center to date have consented to be part of this massive database and discovery project.  The National Parkinson Foundation has modeled their massive quality improvement initiative after the UF INFORM effort. 

Gait & Balance Research

The Applied Neuromechanics Laboratory (Hass Lab) is an interdisciplinary basic and rehabilitation focused laboratory involved in the study of walking and balance problems in individuals with Movement Disorders. Dr. Hass has partnered with the Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorehabilitation so that gait and balance assessments are integrated into our comprehensive treatment and evaluation practices.

Speech and Swallowing Research

Current research on Parkinson’s disease is focused on examining the speech production characteristics of the dysarthria associated with Parkinson’s disease as well as the breathing and swallow dysfunction those with Parkinson’s disease exhibit. In addition, our research team is interested in determining how those characteristics are altered with traditional medications as well as more innovative rehabilitation options such as deep brain stimulation.  Dr. Sapienza and her team recently patented and published the first device that may be used to prevent aspiration pneumonia in Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders (Neurology, 2010).  Additionally, this group has studied and published extensively on cough, voice, and pulmonary function in movement disorders.

Translational & Basic Science Research

Gene Transfer Research

The UF Center for Movement Disorders & Neurorestoration is investigating two different strategies to alleviate behavioral deficits in rat and monkey models of Parkinson’s disease.  This lab is pursuing both direct intrastriatal transmitter replacement (L-dopa delivery) and neurotrophic support strategies (GDNF delivery) in the unilateral 6-OHDA lesion model of PD using recombinant adeno-associated viral vectors (rAAV).  This group has pioneered these approaches and are currently working on therapeutic strategies.  Additionally Dr.’s Steinder and Reynolds are world-class stem cell researchers working in Parkinson’s disease and DBS, and Dr. Nick McFarland has been working on protein processing.

Pathological Mechanisms of Parkinsonism

Dr. Nick McFarland and his team focus on understanding the pathological mechanisms of Parkinson disease and related disorders (atypical parkinsonisms or Parkinson-plus disorders) and in particular the role of alpha-synuclein in cell toxicity and neurodegeneration. A major hallmark of neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson disease, is abnormal protein aggregation and deposition. In Parkinson disease and related disorders, intracellular inclusions called Lewy bodies are found. A principal component of these Lewy bodies is alpha-synuclein. Abnormal folding, aggregation, and deposition of alpha-synuclein are believed to be central to the development of neuronal dysfunction and degeneration.

Pesticides, the Environment and Parkinson’s Disease Research

The Research Laboratory of Dr. Pedro Fernandez Fuentes, Department of Neurology, is interested in understanding the risks associated with the current farming practices and the incidence of sporadic PD in rural and farming environments.  They are interested in exploring this research in animal models and translating discovery into preventative practices for humans.

Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine Research

There is widespread interest in the use of stem cells for cell replacement therapies in human neurological disease and stroke; however, we have only begun to appreciate the cell and molecular biology of these cells that hold great promise for transplantation or other therapeutics relying on the use of different stem/progenitor cell populations or biogenic factors associated with their growth for many repair or cancer treatment approaches.

FGATIR – New Scan for Surgical Targeting

UF recently developed and employed a Fast Gray Matter Acquisition T1 Inversion Recovery (FGATIR) 3T MRI sequence to more reliably visualize the basal ganglia structures targeted for deep brain stimulation (published in the journal NeuroImage). This advance in combination with the UF developed 3-D brain atlas has made DBS faster and more accurate for patients.