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The USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy Phillips-Fisher Center for Brain Repair and Rehabilitation is actively pursuing the science of motor system disorders. As the resources grow, the reach and impact of the Phillips-Fisher Center is impacting patient care worldwide.

PERKS – Parkinson’s Exercise & Recovery Kinetics Study

PERKS focuses on the effect of exercise on functional movement and brain changes with individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Treatment of Parkinson’s disease has primarily consisted of medication to alleviate symptoms. Studies have shown that exercise can improve motor behavior and may reduce the progression of Parkinson’s disease.
Our current project involves the application of high-intensity treadmill training using body-weight support to individuals with Parkinson’s disease. We are evaluating changes in disease severity, functional capability and brain recovery. Our PERKS study has strongly impacted the traditional view of potential in this patient population and the conventional rehabilitation approach that has gone unchallenged for 50 years.
Currently, the Center is planning a multi-faceted clinical trail will consist of PET imaging studies to better understand neuroplasticity and brain repair with induced exercise in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

The Effect of Exercise on Brain Repair

The focus of this research project is to better understand the role the environment plays in influencing the repair of the injured brain. Studies in our lab have shown that intensive treadmill exercise can enhance repair in models of Parkinson’s disease. As we identify the means by which the environment may help repair the brain, this will allow us to target new therapeutic treatments for patients with Parkinson’s Disease. For example, ongoing studies in patients with Parkinson’s disease show that intensive training on a body-weight supported treadmill does in fact show benefit. We want to know how these benefits translate into brain repair affecting disease progression and how to bring these findings to all patients.

Understanding the Mechanisms by which Models of Brain Disorders are Able to Respond to Injury & Repair

Using models of Parkinson’s disease that display the remarkable ability to self-repair after brain injury, we are examining changes in genes, proteins and neurotransmitters that may be instrumental in this process. These molecules may serve as a means to enhance brain repair and promote recovery in the injured brain.

The Role of the Immune System & Hormones in Promoting Brain Repair After Injury

The immune system may serve as an important link between the environment and brain and therefore could have a role in mediating brain repair. The immune system is influenced by the environment and this relationship could potentially serve as another means to influence brain repair after injury or disease. Studies are underway to determine the basis of the link between the immune system and brain in models of Parkinson’s disease and to see if exercise as one means can influence this relationship to promote repair.

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