Foundational Questions: A Researcher’s ASHF-Launched Quest for Answers Name: Michelle Ciucci, PhD, CCC-SLP Title: Associate Professor, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Department of Surgery-Division of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Department of Surgery, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health Lab: www.surgery.wisc.edu/research/researchers-labs/ciucci ASHFoundation Award: 2013 New Century Scholars Research Grant ($10,000), “Time Course and Pathology of ... Foundational Questions
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Foundational Questions  |   July 01, 2016
Foundational Questions: A Researcher’s ASHF-Launched Quest for Answers
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ASHA News & Member Stories / Foundational Questions
Foundational Questions   |   July 01, 2016
Foundational Questions: A Researcher’s ASHF-Launched Quest for Answers
The ASHA Leader, July 2016, Vol. 21, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.FQ.21072016.np
The ASHA Leader, July 2016, Vol. 21, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.FQ.21072016.np
Name: Michelle Ciucci, PhD, CCC-SLP
Title: Associate Professor, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Department of Surgery-Division of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Department of Surgery, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
ASHFoundation Award: 2013 New Century Scholars Research Grant ($10,000), “Time Course and Pathology of Cranial Sensorimotor Deficits in Parkinson’s Disease”
What is the focus of your research?
My translational research program is directed at improving treatments for voice and swallowing disorders. We work with animal models as well as clinical populations. My larger research framework aims to identify which neurobiological processes affect disease progression, and how targeted exercise may slow or reverse degenerative processes. Understanding these mechanisms will lead to better treatments—including behavior interventions and drug discovery and repurposing—and functional outcomes for patients with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson disease.
How did your award from the ASHFoundation lead to your current work?
The grant provided financial support to collect pilot data for my currently funded R01 grant.
What do you hope to demonstrate through your research—or what has it already demonstrated?
Communication and swallowing are affected by many neurodegenerative processes, yet the underlying pathology is often unknown. For example, many people think of Parkinson disease solely as a disease of dopamine depletion in the basal ganglia. This hallmark pathology causes gross motor deficits in the limbs, and can be treated with dopamine replacement and neurosurgery. But communication and swallowing difficulties occur before gross motor deficits and are largely resistant to these therapies. As such, we need to understand the onset, progression and underlying pathology to prevent or treat these deficits.
We have found early and sometimes subtle changes to communication and swallowing in animal models and in patients, with some exciting potential mechanisms. We are in the process of characterizing these mechanisms on a molecular level and then developing improved exercise programs and some potential drugs (and combinations) to optimize treatments. Stay tuned for these results.
Why did you choose this particular research focus?
I have always been drawn to studying anatomy and physiology. I find the complexities intriguing. I also find it frustrating that much science is dedicated to limb sensorimotor control—often ignoring communication and swallowing, thus limiting our understanding of normal mechanism, disease, and disorder. I feel it is important to understand these problems from a translational framework—that is, we need both basic and clinical science approaches to improve treatment, and having training in both of these areas has been vital to approaching these problems.
How has ASHFoundation funding affected your professional life?
The ASHFoundation has been a cornerstone of supporting our students and professionals. Personally, they have supported my research, supported my students and provided critical grant review training. One of my favorite events is to attend the annual Foundation breakfast at the ASHA Annual Convention, where we can learn about all of the wonderful work that is being done in our profession.
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July 2016
Volume 21, Issue 7