Dr. Nicole BentleyThis year, UAB Neurosurgery Assistant Professor Nicole Bentley, M.D., was awarded an American Parkinson Disease Association grant to research cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s Disease patients who are undergoing deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery.

During DBS surgery, an electrode is implanted beneath the skin to deliver electrical pulses into the brain, more than 100 times per second. Because DBS requires surgical implantation of the electrodes, experts such as Department of Neurosurgery Professor Barton Guthrie, M.D.  and Dr. Bentley are called to perform this delicate procedure. Dr. Guthrie and his collaborators have implanted over 1,000 electrodes since the 1990s, and have used the procedure as an opportunity to conduct vital research for patients with Parkinson’s Disease since 2016.

Guthrie works closely with Harrison Walker, M.D. (Department of Neurology), on an NIH-funded BRAIN Initiative Trial, and conducts DBS recordings as they place the device. The recordings occur on the surface of the brain and do not require additional incision sites. Researchers may orient the electrode in any direction needed for recording. For Guthrie and his team, they typically place it to record over motor and sensory cortex.

Bentley is building upon this existing research and infrastructure, but instead of placing the recording device over the motor or sensory cortex, she is focusing her research on cognitive impairment of Parkinson’s disease. In her study, she places the recording device on the prefrontal cortex during DBS procedures, for which consenting patients are awake. She will record baseline activity while patients are resting and then  ask them to perform cognitive tasks, specifically, response inhibition tasks, while monitoring cognitive networks.

The recorded brain activity – triggered by the cognitive tasks that patients perform – is related to concentration and attention difficulty, slow processing speedsand even falls. These are all relevant symptoms that Parkinson’s disease patients might experience. It is hoped that the data recorded before, during, or after stimulation might help researchers improve cognitive functioning for impairedpatients.

“Ultimately, we are using resources and building on existing research structure to decrease the time between research and implementation of potentially life-altering treatments for those with Parkinson’s disease,” said Bentley. “To know that we will have a direct impact on patients’lives motivates our research.”

Bentley and her team ask all patients undergoing DBS to  consider participating in their  research trial. If you are asked to participate, please consider enrolling to possibly help yourself or others affected by Parkinson’s disease.