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BIDMC Neuroscientists Awarded Grants from the Michael J. Fox Foundation

Awards totaling more than $1.5 million will help improve quality of life for patients with Parkinson's disease

BOSTON -- Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) neurologists Alvaro Pascual-Leone, MD, PhD, and Daniel Tarsy, MD, have been awarded grants totaling more than $1.5 million from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF) to conduct investigations aimed at improving the quality of life for patients with Parkinson's disease.

A chronic, degenerative disorder of the nervous system that affects one in 100 individuals over age 60, Parkinson's disease results from diminished levels of dopamine, the brain's chemical messenger responsible for transmitting the signals that enable us to coordinate movements. Although Parkinson's disease typically results in tremor, rigidity and other motor symptoms, a number of non-motor symptoms, including depression, cognitive impairment, and sleep problems can also affect patients with Parkinson's disease and, in many cases, can be even more disabling than the motor symptoms.

Pascual-Leone, Director of BIDMC's Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation, will oversee a three-year $1.498 million grant to investigate the use of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) therapy to control symptoms of Parkinson's disease. As part of the study, 160 patients will be enrolled in clinical trials at BIDMC and at three other North American centers including the University of Florida in Gainesville, the University of California in Los Angeles, and the Toronto (Canada) Western Research Institute-University of Toronto.

"Depression is very common among patients with Parkinson's disease and evidence suggests that it is not merely a response to chronic illness or motor impairments but, in fact, results from factors related to the degenerative brain process itself," notes Pascual-Leone, whose pioneering work has demonstrated that TMS therapy - in which a mild electric current is delivered through a magnetic coil placed over a patient's scalp to help adjust brain signals that have gone awry - can successfully treat depression in patients who have not responded to other therapies.

"Often patients with Parkinson's disease have significant motor problems despite treatment with medications," explains Pascual-Leone. "In our study, noninvasive brain stimulation will target one or both of two brain regions involved in motor or mood symptoms. We predict that rTMS will improve motor symptoms, depression, or both, depending on which brain regions are stimulated, and consequently, will become a valuable adjunct to medications."

In the second MJFF-funded project, Daniel Tarsy, MD, Director of BIDMC's Parkinson's Disease Center, will lead a study comparing two types of speech and voice therapy to determine which is more effective in treating the decreased voice volume experienced by many Parkinson's patients.

"Impaired speech can cause patients to suffer distress, social embarrassment and social isolation," explains Tarsy. "Musical therapy is currently being used for rehabilitation from other types of neurological conditions, such as language impairment following stroke. If singing therapy can also improve voice and speech disorders resulting from Parkinson's disease, this would represent an important alternative to existing speech therapy techniques."

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School and consistently ranks in the top four in National Institutes of Health funding among independent hospitals nationwide. BIDMC is a clinical partner of the Joslin Diabetes Center and is a research partner of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. BIDMC is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox. For more information, visit www.bidmc.org.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation is dedicated to ensuring the development of better treatments, and ultimately a cure, for Parkinson's disease through an aggressively funded research agenda. MJFF has funded $157 million in research to date.