Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Does exercise change symptoms and course of Parkinson’s disease? 

In one of many collaborations with University of Iowa Health Care, NADS is continuing its partnership with neurologist Ergun Uc, MD. In a clinical trial funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs and conducted at the University of Iowa, Uc is leading a study examining the long-term effects of aerobic exercise on movement, cognition, mood, sleep, fatigue, brain tissue, and driving performance in individuals with Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Cameras mounted on the exterior of the driver and passenger side doors capture lane position.
Cameras mounted on the exterior of the driver and passenger side doors capture lane position.

The study compares two groups of people with PD over a year-long timeframe: one group that does aerobic exercise (2.5 hours of brisk walking per week), compared to another group that does online health education. Both groups are allowed to exercise as they wish beyond the intervention randomized by the study.  

Will exercise improve driving ability in PD patients? That’s one of the many questions that Uc’s team is hoping to answer. Each subject participates in a baseline driving assessment, which will be followed by another drive one year later. A NADS research vehicle with data collection capabilities has been outfitted with cameras pointed on the subject, on the road ahead, and on each side of the vehicle to determine lane position. Video footage from each drive is analyzed by a blinded certified driving instructor to determine the number and type of driving errors.

NADS Director Daniel McGehee, PhD, a co-investigator in the study, is in charge of the driving component of the project. Cheryl Roe, head of research logistics for on-road vehicles, is coordinating the NADS research effort. She rides in the vehicles with the study subject to monitor the safety of the drive, along with a research nurse from the hospital’s Clinical Research Unit. NADS staff have also helped design the route, and they manage and house study data. Uc’s research team is looking to enroll around 100 people over the course of the study, which will likely wrap up in 2023.

Neurologist Ergun Uc, MD
Neurologist Ergun Uc, MD

“Having NADS expertise doing the driving assessment is a great asset. Driving function is a major outcome of this research, and without NADS here at the university we wouldn’t be able to do that. I know with NADS it will be done in a standard, reliable fashion providing a scientific method to evaluate driving. Our partnership has been fabulous.”
Ergun Uc, MD, Neurology professor, director of the Movement Disorders Division and Center of Excellence, University of Iowa Health Care 

Details of the study “Long Term Aerobic Exercise to Slow Progression in Parkinson’s Disease” can be found at ClinicalTrials.gov and projectreporter.nih.gov.

This article originally appeared in the 2020 NADS Annual Report.