Pedaling against Parkinson’s

Elizabeth Rund

New KSU professor’s research on disease leads to primetime feature on MSNBC

Angela Ridgel, assistant professor of exercise science and physiology, wears a Kinesia, a device that measures tremors. Stephanie Dever | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

WATCH Ridgel’s story on MSNBC.

Angela Ridgel has only been at Kent State for a few weeks, but her research is already gaining attention.

Ridgel, an assistant professor of exercise science and physiology, was featured Sept. 2 on MSNBC’s Nightly News. The segment, What Works, highlighted the Parkinson’s research of Ridgel and Dr. Jay Alberts of the Cleveland Clinic. The research showed how the motor functions of Parkinson’s patients improved after regular use of a tandem bike.

“There have been studies about exercise and Parkinson’s, and no one has gotten the same reaction,” Ridgel said.

Ridgel began her research at the Cleveland Clinic two years ago where she worked with Alberts, who specializes in biomedical engineering.

“It was just kind of a fluke how it came about,” Ridgel said.

While participating in Pedal for Parkinson’s, a bike ride across Iowa, last year, Alberts shared his bike with a Parkinson’s patient. At the end of the trip the patient said that she didn’t feel as though she had Parkinson’s anymore. After the bike trip Alberts wanted to take a closer look at the effects of vigorous exercise on Parkinson’s disease.

“We wanted to see if exercise had the same effects as the medication,” Alberts said.

Alberts and Ridgel observed two groups of Parkinson’s patients for eight weeks. They focused their study on the rate at which the tandem bike was being pedaled.

The first group used the bike with a trainer. The trainer kept the bike at a constant rate of 85 revolutions per minute. This is called “forced exercise” because it forces the patients to exercise at a rate that is faster than what they can do by themselves.

The patients in the second group pedaled the bike themselves at a slower pace with the trainer off to the side giving support. Ridgel and Alberts found that the “forced exercise” group showed tremendous improvement that continued for a month after the study was over. There was some improvement with the second group, but not close to that of the first.

“Looking at the exercise rate is novel,” Ridgel said.

She added that other studies simply look at the correlation between motor function and exercise. Nothing else has connected improvement with a specific exercise.

Alberts and Ridgel found that not only was there an increase in the motor function of the legs, but there was an increase in the hands and arms as well. Ridgel said that this suggested that the exercise is potentially changing the nervous system.

“There is something happening in the body,” Ridgel said.

In another study, individuals exercised for one hour only and were then given a Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, scan.

Ridgel said they are still in the process of analyzing the MRI data, but the effects of even an hour of exercise has been incredible. There was a dramatic increase in motor function, she said.

Ridgel said she is very encouraged by the results of the research.

“I hope it gives people hope that there is another option,” she said.

After the initial broadcast both Alberts and Ridgel were flooded with phone calls, letters and e-mails from people looking for advice on how to deal with Parkinson’s disease. As of right now there is no cure, though it can be treated with medication.

“These people really don’t have any options,” Ridgel said. “When the disease progresses and they are looking for anything to help, they see it (the research) on the Web and they figure they can contact me.”

Ridgel is currently studying how the nervous system is changing. She will also continue to work with the Cleveland Clinic.

She is collecting equipment for her own lab and hopes to have it up and fully operational by May. The lab will be located in the Gym Annex.

Alberts said that Ridgel will make a great addition to Kent State.

“Kent is very lucky to have her,” Alberts said.

Contact college of education, health and human services reporter Elizabeth Rund at[email protected].

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological disease that occurs when the part of the brain responsible for motor functions stops producing dopamine. Dopamine is a natural chemical produced by the brain that allows the muscles to move smoothly. As those cells die off, it becomes increasingly harder for the patients to do even simple tasks such as buttering a piece of bread.