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JU’s Dr. Christine Sapienza brings $190,000 NIH grant to JU College of Health Sciences, Brooks Rehabilitation

JU’s College of Health Sciences has received a nearly $190,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders to assist with finishing a four-year study evaluating just how crucial a role coughing plays in protecting the airways of patients with swallowing disorders.

JU Prof. Christine Sapienza

The NIH-funded grant focuses on patients with Parkinson’s disease who develop dysphagia, or swallowing problems. It is estimated that as many as 22 percent of people in the U.S. 50 and older may have some form of dysphagia, according to clinical reports.

The JU study will specifically look at the relationship between how well patients with Parkinson’s disease cough and how well they swallow. The study will be completed in partnership with speech language pathology at Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital starting in October 2013. It will be done in continued scientific partnership with University of Florida faculty member Dr. Michael Okun in the College of Medicine/Neurology and Public Health and Health Professions faculty member Dr. Giselle Mann.

Brooks Rehabilitation serves patients with neurologic and neurodegenerative disorders in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

Dysphagia in particular is life-threatening in Parkinson’s disease because it can lead to aspiration pneumonia. In fact, the death rate from these disorders can approach 4 out of 10 patients. It is critical that if the airway becomes impaired during swallowing/eating that a patient can clear it out to prevent the possibility of aspiration pneumonia from infection. Clearing the airway occurs with coughing and coughing strong.

“This project is significant because it may provide us with new tools that can be used to effectively assess cough function in a non-invasive and cost effective manner,” said Dr. Christine Sapienza, the grant’s project leader, associate dean of the JU CHS and professor of communication sciences and disorders.  “This tool, in combination with existing and valid methods for screening swallow function, may assist us in gathering a more complete picture of both preventative (swallow) and corrective (cough) airway protective behaviors to guide subsequent treatment recommendations.”

The National Institute of Health mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.

Funding through the NIH and other federal agencies allows JU faculty to promote the highest goals of science while applying methods that will ultimately protect and improve health.

Faculty can find federal grant opportunities at Grants.gov (http://www.grants.gov/web/grants/home.html;jsessionid=XT1fSGZHcmzNKdsksJy0fjQBzVj2WtD0RVmQ4yQ9TYvNVGwhmdQ2). They can also sign up for inbox delivery of federal opportunities based on criteria specific to their areas of interest/expertise by visiting http://www.grants.gov/web/grants/manage-subscriptions.html.

For more on the JU College of Health Sciences, visit http://ju.edu/cohs.