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U of M researchers study “freezing of gait” in people with Parkinson’s disease

As part of April’s Parkinson’s Awareness Month, Health Talk is taking a closer look at some current University of Minnesota research projects that will help better understand the disease and what new research can do for future treatment and intervention.

Within the U of M’s Movement Disorders Laboratory, Colum MacKinnon, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Medical School’s Department of Neurology is examining “freezing of gait” – an issue seen in roughly half of all patients with Parkinson’s disease. MacKinnon and fellow researchers are hopeful new research could advance understanding of the issue.

The aforementioned “freezing of gait” is characterized by the episodic or spontaneous inability to start or maintain forward progress during walking.

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Sleep key component to athletic performance

The world’s best athletes are descending upon Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Every elite athlete looks for an edge against their competitors to improve their athletic performance but what if the answer was as simple as getting more sleep?

According to Michael Howell, M.D., a sleep expert within the Department of Neurology, that’s precisely what elite athletes excel at.

“The best athletes I’ve ever met are extremely good sleepers,” said Howell. “Although you may not think your brain is doing much during sleep, your brain is putting connections together and it is amplifying circuits that are important.”

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Research Snapshot: Endovascular gene therapy is a viable drug delivery approach for Hurler’s syndrome

New research from the Department of Neurology at the University of Minnesota may help bolster new treatment approaches for Hurler’s syndrome.

In a recent study, U of M researchers compared the efficacy of endovascular vs. intracerebral ventricular delivery of a viral gene therapy vector in an animal model and found that endovascular gene therapy is a viable drug delivery approach for many brain diseases, including Hurler’s syndrome.

The latest research was led by Christopher Janson, M.D., a resident in the Department of Neurology at the University of Minnesota, and was recently published in the journal Neurosurgery.

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Study says sleep ‘cleans’ the brain of toxins

Last week, researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center released a new study in the journal Science that demonstrated why fostering a healthy “waste removal system” may be one of the fundamental reasons for sleep. According to the study, brain cells shrink during sleep to open gaps between neurons and allow fluid to wash the brain clean.

The scientists used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the brains of mice and found that the glymphatic system became 10 times as active while the mice were asleep. Brain cells shrink during sleep which increases the size of the interstitial space (gaps between brain tissue) allowing for more fluid to be pumped in and wash toxins away.

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Research Snapshot: U of M study finds NAC boosts brain and blood glutathione in patients with Parkinson’s and Gaucher’s diseases

In a new study recently published in Clinical Neuropharmacology, University of Minnesota researchers tried to determine if N-acetylcysteine (NAC), administered via an intravenous infusion, can alter peripheral blood and brain chemistry in patients with Parkinson’s and Gaucher disease as determined through blood assays and brain magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS).

University researchers Paul Tuite, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Neurology, James Cloyd, Pharm.D., professor in the Department of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology, College of Pharmacy, and Gulin Oz, Ph.D., associate professor of radiology at the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR) all partnered on the project.

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U of M study examines the impact of epilepsy in Native Americans

A recent study from the University of Minnesota’s Department of Neurology and School of Public Health shows how epilepsy impacts Upper Midwest Native Americans.  According to U of M researchers, steps must be taken to improve care in this community including addressing barriers such as limited epilepsy care and transportation access, issues of trust concerning the medical system, and the startling economic impacts suffered by those affected with epilepsy within the Native American community.

The latest study, “Comparison Study of Beliefs and Quality of Health Care of Native Americans With and Without Epilepsy” examined 55 Native Americans in Minnesota, 23 with epilepsy and 32 without.  The study was made possible through a grant from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and outreach via tribal offices, the Native American Community Clinic and the Minneapolis American Indian Center.

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