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Eran Dayan, PhDCongratulations to Dr. Eran Dayan on receiving an RO2 grant from (NICHD) Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. They are providing funding ($404,276) for his project “Targeted Motor Learning to Improve Gait for Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease.”  Over the 2-year lifespan (05/01/2023 – 04/30/2025) of this project, Dayan will serve as co-PI alongside contact PI Dr. Michael Lewek (Physical Therapy).

A major barrier limiting effective walking interventions in people with Parkinson’s Disease is the occurrence of insufficient motor learning. In the absence of disease modifying options, dopaminergic medications, and deep brain stimulation are often used as the disease progresses. Although effective at improving gait, these solutions are temporary, concealing the concurrent degeneration of dopaminergic neurons. As a result, these solutions become less effective at improving gait as the disease progresses and can wear off later in the day. Physical therapy has the potential to increase walking capacity as well as create long-term improvements through intensive training that focuses on motor learning. Learning how to improve walking represents a considerable challenge for patients and rehabilitation professionals. The proposed project will determine how to improve motor learning related to walking through residual intact neural pathways for improved gait and long-term retention of functional benefits.

In Aim 1, the team will assess the gait behavioral changes post-training and at a 3-month follow-up to determine retention. In Aim 2, they will explore structural and functional neural changes induced by the gait training interventions. This team is exceptionally well prepared to perform these Aims, consisting of experts in gait neurorehabilitation and biomechanics (Lewek), motor learning and neuroimaging (Dayan), and Parkinson disease clinical care (Browner). At the conclusion of this project, the team will have determined the available mechanisms of motor learning for people with PD, and will have examined the neural substrates that can be targeted to maximize remaining intact neural circuitry. This project has the potential to alter the manner in which rehabilitation is performed with people with PD, using a disease-specific motor learning paradigm that makes use of residual neural circuits for long-term retention of functional motor skills.

Dr. Dayan runs the Dayan Lab for NeuroInformatics at UNC, which seeks to identify the organizational, dynamical, and computational properties of large-scale brain networks and to determine how these properties contribute to human behavior in health and disease. In relation to the overall mission of his lab, he notes of his newly funded work addressing aging-related cognitive decline: “The study utilizes inter-disciplinary methods and relies on the inter-disciplinary expertise of our diverse team. I believe we are well-positioned to tackle the study’s goals, and hope that the study will pave the way to additional long-term collaborative projects investigating neurodegeneration and aging.”