Cleveland Clinic Researcher Gets $3M NIH Grant to Study Impact of Exercise on Parkinson’s Disease

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by Mary Chapman |

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A Cleveland Clinic researcher is getting a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the long-term impact of high-intensity aerobic exercise on Parkinson’s disease progression.

The five-year award goes to Jay Alberts, PhD, a staff member in the department of biomedical engineering and the director of the Cleveland Clinic Concussion Center, and vice chairman of health enabling technology and innovations. His research focuses on the central nervous system and upper extremity motor performance in PD patients, and the effect of behavioral and surgical interventions.

He was also the lead researcher for a clinical trial called CYCLE (NCT01636297), aimed at determining the effects of forced cycling on motor and non-motor performance, compared with voluntary cycling and a non-exercise control group. Begun in 2012, the randomized study, which included 100 participants, also assessed whether exercise improves brain activity.

Recently completed, the study showed that an eight-week high-intensity aerobic exercise program markedly enhances overall motor function, certain aspects of walking, and cognitive function in Parkinson’s patients.

The new study, touted as the first of its kind, will measure the effectiveness of a long-term CYCLE protocol in a home-based setting.

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”Our previous work clearly indicates that aerobic exercise, such as cycling, in a controlled environment improves motor function over the course of eight weeks,” Alberts said in a press release. “This project is important in understanding how exercise can slow disease progression, and the translation of a laboratory-based protocol to the home of the patient. To bring an effective intervention from the Cleveland Clinic to the home of a patient outside of our zip code is an exciting next step in the treatment of Parkinson’s.”

Along with the University of Utah, the clinic will recruit 250 Parkinson’s patients who will be randomized to either a high-intensity home exercise or usual and customary care (UCC) group. Using stationery indoor bikes, the exercise group must exercise three times weekly for a year, while UCC participants will go about their daily lives. All participants will be evaluated for motor and non-motor function upon enrollment and at six and 12 months.

The volunteers will wear devices that will track overall activity levels. Exercise performance data will be used to determine whether a certain level of exercise can slow Parkinson’s progression. A positive determination would enable clinicians to make specific exercise recommendations to patients, and empower patients to play a more active role in disease treatment and management.

In general, researchers have determined that exercise is essential to helping Parkinson’s patients maintain balance, mobility, and the ability to perform daily routines.

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