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September 2008 Issue

Kim Seroogy, PhD, is studying the relationship between Parkinson's disease and depression.
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Researchers Turn Modest Grant Into $1.7 Million Study on Parkinson's

Published September 2008

It all started with a $14,000 pilot grant and a hunch that depression can make a debilitating neurological disease even worse.

A modest $14,000 is how much UC faculty members Kim Seroogy, PhD, and James Herman, PhD, received from the Sunflower Revolution Encore, a private fundraiser hosted by Melody Sawyer Richardson in 2005, for research into whether clinical depression exacerbates the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

Two years later, they received a $50,000 grant from the Davis Phinney Foundation to continue their research, which was also supported in the interim by about $20,000 from the Parkinson’s Disease Support Network of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

Now, Seroogy and Herman are poised to make even greater strides in the laboratory with a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The total grant is for $1.7 million.

“Times are tough with the NIH right now, and it wasn’t easy getting this grant,” says Seroogy, professor and vice chair for basic research in the department of neurology and director of the Selma Schottenstein Harris Lab for Research in Parkinson’s Disease. “But basically the Davis Phinney Foundation grant toward the end clinched it.

“We’re gratified that an investment of less than $90,000 has now led to a five-year NIH grant of $1.7 million.”

The Sunflower Revolution is an annual gala and auction, educational symposium and bike ride that raises funds for the Neuroscience Institute at UC and University Hospital, home of the James J. and Joan A. Gardner Family Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders.

Sunflower funds flow into discovery and wellness programs at the Gardner Center through the Davis Phinney Foundation, a UC fundraising partner.

This year’s Sunflower Revolution V fundraising events are scheduled for Sept. 5–7. Phinney, 49, is one of only three Americans to win multiple stages of the Tour de France. His 300 national and international victories make him America’s winningest cyclist. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 40.

Seroogy is the principal investigator of the research funded by NIH, officially titled “Stress-Induced Depression and Parkinsonian Symptomology.”

Herman, a professor in the department of psychiatry and director of the university’s neuroscience graduate program, is the co-investigator.

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neurological disorder involving the death of dopamine-producing neurons deep within the brain. Depression is highly prevalent in Parkinson’s disease, and Seroogy and Herman are studying a stressinduced model of depression and Parkinson’s disease in rodents.

“It’s coming much more to the forefront of Parkinson’s research that non-motor symptoms are important components of the disease,” says Seroogy.

“And it’s often said that the nonmotor symptoms reduce the patients’ quality of life even more than the motor symptoms. Obviously, it’s a big problem.”

In pilot studies so far, Seroogy and Herman have found that in those animals that have stress combined with Parkinson’s, their normal loss of dopamine cells in the brain is accelerated. In addition, the movements of their impaired limbs also worsened in the behaviors that were tested.

“So stress-induced depression exacerbates problems with movement, and also causes the relevant brain cells to die faster,” Seroogy says.

“That’s basically what got us the grant, and now we have five years to investigate how stress causes enhanced parkinsonian symptoms, and how to prevent stress from causing further damage to the parkinsonian brain.”

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