Your Tax Dollars at Work: Researcher Q&A with Dr. Angela Ridgel, Ph.D., Kent State University

PAN will be highlighting how federal funded research, such as at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), supports researchers and their work in YOUR communities. In fact, more than 80 percent of NIH's budget goes to more than 300,000 research personnel at more than 2,500 universities and research institutions. All across America, NIH funding is creating jobs and enhancing local economies.

In order to showcase your tax dollars at work in your community, we will be periodically featuring federal funded Parkinson’s researchers from across the country. This month, PAN asks Dr. Angela Ridgel, Ph.D. of Kent State University in Ohio to tell us about her Parkinson’s research.

PAN: Tell me a little about the history of your Parkinson’s disease research.

AR: I have been working on Parkinson’s disease since 2006.  From 2006-2008, I worked with Dr. Jay Alberts at Cleveland Clinic where we started to do forced exercise experiments.  In 2008, I started my own research lab at Kent State University.  Since that time, we have published six papers on the motor and cognitive benefits of exercise and vibration therapy in individuals with Parkinson’s disease.  Currently, we are finishing up a two-year, NIH-funded study called “Development of an Intelligent Bicycle for Rehabilitation in Parkinson's Disease.” We are currently working on another grant which will build upon what we have discovered with this study. 

PAN: Why did you choose to look at your specific topic?

AR: I have always had an interest in the neurobiology of movement.  Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder where movement is disrupted.  Previous studies have shown that exercise can promote neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the nervous system to reorganize after an injury.  In light of my interests and the need to understand how we can promote neuroplasticity in individuals with Parkinson’s, it seemed like an important and timely research topic.  While the medications that are prescribed for Parkinson’s disease help to relieve the symptoms, they do not slow disease progression.  There is a great need for interventions which can slow progression.  We are hoping that studies in our lab will discover optimal interventions for Parkinson’s.

PAN: This same study was funded in 2012 and 2013. Could you explain that?

AR: My grant from the NIH was a two year grant called an R21- Developmental/Exploratory Grant.  The idea behind this project was to collect preliminary data for a larger study.  We were able to design and test our intelligent bicycle prototype within this two-year period.  Below is a summary of the current project:

Parkinson’s disease affects about 1.5 million Americans.  As Parkinson’s progresses, the combined motor and non-motor symptoms often lead to decreased independence and increased reliance on caregivers and the healthcare system. Although many studies have documented the benefits of exercise, it is unclear what elements (i.e. dosage, intensity, intervention type) constitute an optimal exercise intervention for people with Parkinson’s.

Each individual with Parkinson’s has different symptoms and capabilities which make it challenging to design a single rehabilitation program that would be optimal for all. Furthermore, progression of the disease often requires re-assessments and changes to motor rehabilitation programs.  The objective of this project is to construct an instrumented cycle and use this as a clinical tool to examine the associations between rider performance and changes in motor function.

This instrumented bike will be used to:

  1. Extract features during cycling sessions and automatically assess rider motor skills with an instrumented bike and
  2. Examine the importance of motor speed variability during accelerated cadence. 

Individuals with Parkinson’s disease will be randomized into one of two groups: 1) dynamic cycling or 2) static inertial load cycling. During dynamic cycling, motor output speed will vary. During static inertial load cycling, individuals will be directed to choose their own pedaling speed. Data from the instrumented bike will be collected continuously and motor function and balance tests will be completed before and after three exercise sessions. The intent is to establish a comprehensive database that covers the range of expected rider capabilities.

This project will provide an effective platform for researching the underlying mechanisms for improvements in motor function and for readily implementing a feedback system that can dynamically optimize the benefits of exercise in individuals with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders.

PAN: What it the timeline for your research?

AR: We have completed collecting data for this initial grant and we are planning on completing the publication for this study over the next few months.  We have another study beginning next week that will look at the sustainability of motor function improvements after a bout of dynamic cycling. 

PAN: Why is this research important to people with Parkinson’s?

AR: Our goal is to determine how exercise interventions can be used to promote neuroplasticity in Parkinson’s disease.  This information will assist in the development of trainers and devices that individuals could use to slow the progression of the disease. 

PAN: What are the possible short-term and long-term changes that could come out of your research findings?

AR: We found that dynamic cycling (high cadence) promotes motor function improvement after only three sessions.  Specifically, we found that tremor, bradykinesia, rigidity, and walking speed is improved in people with Parkinson’s disease. The information that we collected in these initial experiments will assist us to improve our equipment to maximize these improvements and promote neuroplasticity.  We hope that future studies in our lab will allow us to determine the optimal exercise program for individuals. 

PAN: Do you need patients for a clinical trial? If so, how can they get involved?

AR: We always have ongoing studies that need volunteers.  We cannot do this type of work without the assistance of research volunteers.  Anyone who is interested should contact me via email at [email protected] and we can discuss possible opportunities.  Most of our studies require 4-6 visits to Kent State University. 

PAN: If there was one thing you’d like people with Parkinson’s to understand about your research, what would it be?

AR: All types of exercise are helpful for individuals with Parkinson’s disease.  However, my goal is to promote changes in the nervous system that will decrease the disability of the disease.  In addition, I know that everyone with Parkinson’s is different so exercise is not “one-size fits all.”  My research hopes to design “individual-specific” interventions that can decrease motor and cognitive decline. 

PAN: If there was one thing you’d like Members of Congress to understand about your research, what would it be?

AR: Clinical research is essential for continued progress against debilitating diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.  The goal of my work is to promote healthy aging and improved quality of life in individuals with Parkinson’s disease. 

Angela Ridgel Biography
Dr. Ridgel’s research is focused on how aging and neurological disorders limit movement and cognition in humans. One of her current research projects examines how exercise can be used for neurorehabilitation in elderly individuals and those with Parkinson’s disease. She is currently examining how motor and sensory interventions can improve balance, posture and gait in these populations. Her research is funded through a NIH R21 grant. She has ongoing research collaborations with Cleveland Clinic, University Hospital, Case Western Reserve University, and Rockwell Automation.


Date originally posted: October 18, 2013.