VCU researchers receive $1 million grant to test diagnostic tool for Parkinson’s disease

vcuThe Michael J. Fox Foundation has awarded a $1 million grant to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Schools of Medicine and Engineering to test a diagnostic tool for Parkinson’s disease that was developed by university researchers.

The noninvasive eye-tracking device uses infrared light to follow a patient’s eye movement as the patient attempts to fix his or her gaze on a screen-displayed object. While normal eye movements are highly regulated and follow well-defined patterns, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease alter eye movements.

“One aim of the grant is to validate that we can use eye tracking to diagnose Parkinson’s disease with high accuracy,” said principal investigator Mark Baron, M.D., professor of neurology at the VCU School of Medicine and interim director of the VCU Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders Center. “Another aim is to validate that we can diagnose Parkinson’s disease well before a patient displays outward symptoms.”

Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder that affects as many as 1 million individuals in the United States. It involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain called neurons. Some of those dying neurons produce dopamine, which is a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. As the cells die and less dopamine is produced in the brain, the symptoms of Parkinson’s progress, leaving a person unable to control movement normally.

The cause of the disease in most cases remains unknown and there is no cure, though research advances are providing increasing insight into the underlying disorder. To date, Parkinson’s disease has lacked a standard diagnostic test.

“The ability to more accurately diagnose Parkinson’s disease, as well as other movement conditions, at an early stage would importantly reduce the occurrence of early misdiagnosis and assure initiation of the correct disease-targeted therapies,” Baron said.

Baron and his research partner Paul Wetzel, Ph.D., an associate professor of biomedical engineering at the VCU School of Engineering, have been studying eye movements associated with Parkinson’s disease for more than a decade. They were joined by George Gitchel, Ph.D., who worked on the eye movement research full time for his Ph.D. dissertation at the VCU School of Engineering under the mentorship of Wetzel. Gitchel continues to work in the trio of researchers in his current position as the associate director of clinical research at the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Affairs Hospital Southeast Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education and Clinical Center.

“With the Michael J. Fox Foundation grant, we will replicate the research we have been doing for the past eight years in a blinded fashion over multiple academic centers in order to prove the utility of the device and lend support toward anticipated Food and Drug Administration approval,” Gitchel said.

The research team already has a commercial license for the device, which was facilitated through the VCU Innovation Gateway. Baron expects the product to be commercially available within a year.

augusta free press
augusta free press news

UVA Basketball Fans!

uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25. The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe, and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018 through to the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.

Dick Vitale on Team of Destiny: “This is a hoops story you will LOVE! Jerry and Chris capture the sensational and dramatic championship journey by Tony Bennett and his tenacious Cavalier team. UVA was Awesome Baby and so is this book!”

Ralph Sampson on Team of Destiny: “Jerry and Chris have lived and seen it all, even before my time. I highly recommend this book to every basketball fan across the globe. This story translates to all who know defeat and how to overcome it!”

Buy here.

AFP Business

As professional consultants, Augusta Free Press LLC provides clients in the Shenandoah Valley and Central Virginia and beyond with marketing and PR solutions including website design, SEO, TV/radio, video work, branding and logos, social media and overall marketing campaign design and implementation. Augusta Free Press LLC was founded in 2002.

Web Design

Augusta Free Press has designed more than 800 websites for clients in the Shenandoah Valley and Central Virginia. We take care of all facets of web design – visual design, layout design, content development and SEO. Short on staff? We’ll work with you to update your AFP-designed website in a timely manner or train your staff to make changes.

Marketing/Social Media Management

Augusta Free Press manages advertising campaigns for small- and medium-sized businesses across Virginia. You don’t need to hire a full-time marketing coordinator. Bring the experience of the Augusta Free Press team to work for you – for a fraction of the cost.

Graphic Design

Augusta Free Press will help you take your vision to the next level. From branding and logos to print materials, our team will work with you to develop products to showcase your business. From brochures and rack cards to full-color magazines or print/digital ads, we’ve got you covered.

Event Planning/Fundraising

Augusta Free Press will help you plan the best event for your organization. From an open house or anniversary to a 5K or Pay Per View, we can handle it all. Looking for training for your sales staff? We can help energize your employees or board. Need ideas to raise more money? Let us help you plan a successful event. Want to hold a news conference or need help with a press release? We can do that too.

Click here for more.