Initiative researches brain health

Andrew Atkins

Kent State has begun a new initiative meant to bring together faculty across 19 schools and departments to further research in brain health.

The initiative is one of five dedicated to research at Kent State. Other initiatives include material science, environmental science and design, population health, and global understanding.

Subjects under the umbrella of the brain health research initiative include fundamentals of neuroscience, brain functions, brain injuries and integrated health.

The initiative came after a report from Brad Fenwick, senior vice president of global strategic alliances for Elsevier, who assessed Kent State’s position as an institution seeking to expand research programs.

“For its size and structure, Kent State enjoys a strong number of research programs that rank highly within the area of research they represent on a global level,” Fenwick wrote in his report. “It is noteworthy that for a number of these (areas of global research), Kent State has a stronger position than very well known and much larger research intensive universities, such as Harvard, Michigan, Illinois, UCLA and Georgia Tech.”

Some examples Fenwick referenced include research on memory recall, in which Kent State is the leading university, and stress disorders and trauma psychology research, in which Kent State is third in the nation.  

In one instance of this research, Angela Ridgel, associate professor of health sciences, has found that Parkinson’s disease patients who are put on a tandem bikes show signs of improvement in their symptoms.

This work did not come without challenges.

“One problem with the tandem work was having an able-bodied trainer,” Ridgel said. “I’m a cyclist, so I trained most of those people myself. I wanted to make a motorized bike.”

That bike has now been developed, and it works to decrease tremors, slow movement and muscle rigidity.

These are the areas of strength that the Vice President for Research and Sponsored Programs, Paul DiCorleto, wanted to focus.

DiCorleto sent out an email to all faculty members asking for those who worked in the field of brain health to respond with some keywords about their work and send them to Dan Pompili, marketing and public relations communication specialist.

Pompili said the feedback was immediate. “Within minutes, my email was filling up,” he said.

Pompili said there are 44 people across every Kent State campus that have self-selected as performing research in brain health.

“It was encouraging that it spanned so many departments and schools,” DiCorleto said. 

Ridgel expressed excitement about the initiative as well.

“It’s something we’ve needed here for a while because we have a great variety of researchers, and it’s challenging knowing what the other does,” Ridgel said.

Sophomore nursing major Thomas Watral said the initiative was interesting.

“It’s going to put Kent on the map,” he said. “To be known for brain health research would be awesome.”

Senior biology major Zoe Westfall said she felt the initiative would be a good way to be known more as a science-based school. 

“When people think of Kent I think they think of fashion, teaching and journalism. It would be a great opportunity to diversify our programs,” she said. “It’s really our attempt to improve on what really is already a strength at Kent State,” said Todd Diacon, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

DiCorleto said that he hopes the brain health research initiative will become a brain health research institute. It was approved at the university’s Faculty Senate, and now needs to be approved by the president’s cabinet, and then the Board of Trustees. 

The initiative also needs a director.

John Johnson, associate professor of biological sciences, sits on that search committee.

Johnson said the committee is looking for someone with experience in not only the field of brain health, but in obtaining funding and bringing faculty together. As it is, some funding will come from the university, but the initiative will also be seeking extramural funding.

Above all, Johnson said the committee is searching for “someone that can bring some energy and enthusiasm, and really bring faculty together to continue to do research in the brain health area.

Andrew Atkins is an administration reporter, contact him at [email protected]