Simmering examines Parkinson’s diagnoses, treatment with KL2 Scholar Award

Jacob Simmering, PhD, assistant professor in Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Occupational Medicine, received a KL2 Scholar Award from the University of Iowa’s Institute for Clinical and Translational Science (ICTS). With this support, Simmering aims to improve the timeliness of the diagnosis and responsiveness of treatment for people living with Parkinson’s disease (PD).

“Management of the disease, including medication and lifestyle adjustments, is largely guided by the clinical situation as there are no objective biomarkers of disease severity,” Simmering said. “A major barrier to diagnosis and timely management is the shortage of neurologists, especially movement disorder neurologists with a specialization in Parkinson’s disease, in the United States and particularly in rural areas.”

Since PD treatment is heavily dependent on clinical care, people with PD living in rural communities may have to travel further away to see a specialist. Remote monitoring offers people with PD another option that may alleviate the diagnosis barriers. These at-home assessments can be completed with a simple activity tracker and standardized speech and video assessments recorded on a smart phone.

“By monitoring tremor, movement, sleep, speech, and hand dexterity, we may catch people in the early stages of disease and get them to a movement disorders neurologist sooner or intensify therapy in response to worsening symptoms more quickly,” Simmering said.

Simmering plans to collect data from people without PD, people recently diagnosed with PD, and people with differing severity levels of PD using remote monitors.

“Ultimately, these insights will enable better – more accurate and more timely – monitoring of disease severity, reducing barriers to care in rural areas, and improve the quality of life of people living with PD,” Simmering said.

An integral part of the KL2 Scholar program is mentoring. For Simmering’s project, Philip Polgreen, MD, MPH, professor of Infectious Diseases, and Nandakumar Narayanan, MD, PhD, associate professor of Neurology, will serve as his primary mentors.

Renewed at the ICTS in 2018, the KL2 Career Development Award is a five-year award designed to identify and train outstanding junior faculty who seek a career in clinical and translational research. KL2 awards provide 75% salary support of up to $85K for 2 to 3 years. This award provides assistant professors with intensive curricular and mentoring support to prepare these researchers to apply for independent funding.

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