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International Essential Tremor Foundation funds $85,000 in grants

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The International Essential Tremor Foundation (IETF) will fund three essential tremor (ET) research grants totaling $85,000 this year. Grant funding was provided to the IETF from its own members. All three studies to be awarded funds have been selected.

ET is a neurological movement disorder that affects nearly 10 million people in the U.S. alone. ET frequently is misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease. The condition often is characterized by rhythmic, involuntary and uncontrollable shaking of the hands and arms during movement, but it also can affect the head, voice, legs and trunk. 

The IETF will award $25,000 to the study The Role of Excitotoxicity in Essential Tremor Cerebellum. The goal of this research is to investigate the role of excitotoxicity in the postmortem ET cerebellum. Excitotoxicity is the pathological process by which nerve cells are damaged and killed by excessive stimulation by neurotransmitters. It has been a suggested approach for ET; however, there has yet to be any direct evidence that excitotoxicity plays a role in ET patients.

Researchers propose to test this hypothesis by examining the number of excitatory synapses (structures that permit a neuron to pass an electrical or chemical signal to another cell) and the levels of excitotoxicity markers in the cerebellum. This will be the key step to understanding the process of cerebellar degenerative process in ET. The study will be conducted by Dr. Sheng-Han Kuo at the Essential Tremor Centralized Brain Repository, New York Brain Bank, Columbia University

The second study awarded $25,000 is Cerebello-Thalamo-Cortical Coupling in Essential Tremor: Effects of High-Frequency Cerebellar Stimulation on Brain Activity and Tremor. Tremor is associated with abnormal activity within different brain regions, particularly the thalamus and cerebellum. Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) reverses symptoms of tremor but is an invasive procedure. Transcranial stimulation of the cerebellum may represent a non-invasive therapeutic option for ET patients. Transcranial stimulation (tACS) is a new technique allowing manipulation of rhythmic patterns in the brain’s cortex with externally applied electrical frequencies.

To further understand how this treatment provokes tremor reduction, researchers will analyze the brain neuronal activity in other ET patients who are candidates for DBS by using electric current recordings of the thalamus, cerebellum and cortex. The study will be conducted by Dr. Marie-Laure Welter at Groupe Hospitalier Pitié -Salpêtrière in Paris. 

The final study, A Feasibility Study for an Essential Tremor Brain Bank at the Arizona Study of Aging and Neurodegenerative Disorders, will be awarded $35,000. Now in its third IETF-funded year, researchers will continue to examine the brain tissue of those with ET and other neurological disorders after death, searching for a greater understanding of how ET changes the features of the brain, and hopefully leading to more effective diagnostic tools. They also will compare the clinical findings of early onset ET and ET beginning after age 65.

Researchers will examine all brain areas using previous standardized assessments with the goal to explore whether there are any brain regions that may have been overlooked in smaller surveys in the past. This study will be conducted by Dr. Holly Shill and Dr. Charles Adler at Banner Sun Health Research Institute in Tucson, Ariz.

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