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“The Cut” is a weekly reporters notebook-type essay by an Ideastream Public Media content creator, reflecting on the news and on life in Northeast Ohio. What exactly does “The Cut” mean? It's a throwback to the old days of using a razor blade to cut analog tape. In radio lingo, we refer to sound bites as “cuts.” So think of these behind-the-scene essays as “cuts” from Ideastream's producers.

Brains on Tap offers a great way to quench my thirst for knowledge

Join Kent State University researcher Angela Ridgel, Ph.D and Dr. Aasaf Shaikh, neurologist from University Hospitals in an interactive discussion of Parkinson's Disease and new therapies to slow its progression, March 15, 5:00pm at Bell Tower Brewing in Kent.
KSU Brain Health Research Institute
Kent State University researcher Angela Ridgel, Ph.D and Dr. Aasaf Shaikh, neurologist from University Hospitals, will have an interactive discussion about Parkinson's Disease and new therapies to slow its progression on March 15 at 5 p.m. at Bell Tower Brewing in Kent.

Although it may not appear obvious at first, few things go better with a pint of freshly brewed craft beer than a detailed discussion of neuroscience.

At least that's the theory behind the Brains on Tap series.

It was founded a few years ago by my dear friend Merri Rosen, who happens to be a brilliant scientist at the Northeast Ohio Medical University.

She wanted an excuse to get together and talk shop with like-minded people interested in both the details of brain anatomy and the finer points of locally brewed ales and lagers.

Brains on Tap is back for the 2023 season with a session focusing on Parkinson's Disease and featuring the very fine selection on tap at the wonderful Bell Tower Brewing in Kent.

As both a science geek and a homebrewer, this series is close to my heart, which is why I'll be there.

Science and Suds

There are some things we know about Parkinson’s Disease and a lot we don’t know.

We know it affects around one million, mostly older Americans, with around 30,000 cases in Ohio.

It's of slight concern to me personally because men are one-and-a-half times more likely to get it than women.

And the rates of Parkinson’s are higher in the industrial Midwest than in other parts of the country, with the exception of Florida and California.

But the causes of Parkinson’s Disease, or PD, remain a mystery.

We’ll learn what researchers know, and what they don’t yet know, next week when two PD experts share their knowledge during Brains on Tap.

Brains on Bikes

I first met Kent State University's Angela Ridgel, Ph.D ten years ago while reporting on local Parkinson's research.

She told me most cases of PD today, as it was a decade ago, are ‘idiopathic,’ or of unknown origin.

For example, genetic factors may increase the risk of developing the disease, or exposure to toxic chemicals like pesticides.

The ‘trigger,’ in most cases, is not unknown, Ridgel said, but the effect is that cells in the midbrain that control movement, in a region known as the substantia nigra, begin dying off.

These cells produce an important neurotransmitter called dopamine.

Parkinson’s symptoms typically develop eight to 10 years after the initial attack on the dopaminergic neurons, Ridgel said.

PD begins with unsteady balance and coordination, and progresses to uncontrolled movements and the telltale shaking that signifies the condition.

Ridgel and her team are developing therapies to slow the onset of Parkinson’s Disease.

She uses exercise to help patients maintain their mobility through a program called Speed Manipulated Adaptive Rehabilitation Therapy, otherwise known as the SMART bike.

KSU researcher Angela Ridgel and former grad student Robert Phillips testing an early version of the SMART bike.
Jeff St.Clair
KSU researcher Angela Ridgel and former grad student Robert Phillips testing an early version of the SMART bike.

More than a decade ago, Ridgel and a colleague discovered that riding a tandem bike helped improve symptoms for people with PD.

She said the variable speed of the tandem bike was the key.

“When you're riding on a tandem, you're pushing and pulling against each other because the chains are connected,” she said.

That alternating strain and relaxation improved damaged brain circuits in PD patients.

She built that unsteady rhythm into the motors of her SMART bike.

“It actually has an element of dynamic change around the set point that's really important,” said Ridgel.

Ridgel is now working on the third-generation SMART bike and is looking for a manufacturing partner interested in licensing her patented technology.

She'll share her research at Brains on Tap from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on March 15 at Bell Tower Brewing, 310 Park Ave., Kent.

Ridgel will be joined by Dr. Aasef Shaikh, staff neurologist at University Hospitals, who specializes in the treatment of Parkinson’s and other movement disorders.

I’ll be hosting the event.

See ya there!

"The Cut" is featured in Ideastream Public Media's weekly newsletter, The Frequency Week in Review. To get The Frequency Week in Review, The Daily Frequency or any of our newsletters, sign up on Ideastream's newsletter subscription page.

Jeff St. Clair is the midday host for Ideastream Public Media.