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Lab Staff

Michelle Ciucci, PhD, CCC-SLP
Principal Investigator

Dr. Ciucci’s research interests focus on the neurobiological and behavioral underpinnings of cranial sensorimotor control. She is currently exploring the effects of degenerative neurologic disease-induced deficits on voice, speech, and swallowing (oromotor function) using both clinical and basic science methods. Her clinical studies on swallowing focus on fine motor skills required to generate subtle changes in pressure generation during the pharyngeal stage of swallowing, considering the influence of disease state, therapy, and medications on these processes. She also studies Parkinson disease to examine the impact of early sensorimotor training approaches on functional improvement of vocalization and swallow behaviors as well as the underlying neural substrates of exercise-induced brain changes and explores how anti-Parkinson medications influence complex sensorimotor enrichment outcomes. Dr. Ciucci believes understanding these processes will lead to better treatments and functional outcomes for patients with Parkinson disease and other neurologic disorders.

Cynthia Kelm-Nelson, PhD
Post-Doctoral Associate

Effective social communication requires the motivation to communicate and the production of signals that are appropriate within a given social context. Across the animal kingdom, vocal communication is a necessity for successful social relationships as well as survival and reproductive success. For humans, neurological disorders such as Parkinson disease, lead to deficits in communication that can be devastating. Dr. Kelm-Nelson’s overall scientific interests are in the brain and how specific neural chemicals influences vocal behavior. In the Ciucci lab, she is focus on the following gaps in knowledge: (1) the pathologies associated with vocal communication deficits in PD and (2) the mechanisms that underlie exercise-based modulation of PD vocal pathology. Her work utilizes a true systems biology approach, encompassing behavioral, genomic and proteomic analysis. Dr. Kelm-Nelson has a B.S. in biology (neurobiology), zoology, and anthropology, a M.S. in biotechnology and a Ph.D. in behavioral neuroendocrinology (zoology).

Laura Grant, MS
Recent Graduate

Parkinson disease is devastating voice and swallow function, significantly impacting social interactions and quality of life. Unfortunately, these cranial sensorimotor deficits are not amenable to standard treatments targeting the primary disease pathology of nigrostriatal dopamine depletion, suggesting that other mechanisms may be responsible. The neuropathology in Parkinson disease involves significant degeneration of noradrenergic (norepinephrine) neurons in the locus coeruleus in addition to loss of nigrostriatal dopamine. Laura’s research interests include characterizing the contribution of norepinephrine to voice and swallowing dysfunction in Parkinson disease. Laura has a BS in Biopsychology from the University of Michigan, a MS in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Wisconsin, and a PhD in Communication Sciences & Disorders.

Corinne Jones, MS
Graduate Student

Craniomotor deficits secondary to Parkinson Disease can have a great impact on voice and swallowing function and thus quality of life. These deficits often do not respond to pharmacological or surgical management techniques often used to treat motor symptoms in the limb. The progression of craniomotor deficits in Parkinson Disease in humans is not well understood. The goal of Corinne’s PhD research is to determine early, sub-clinical changes in voice and swallowing function in human patients with an early or suspected diagnosis of Parkinson Disease and those with genetic predisposition. Corinne Jones has a BA in Linguistics and Communication Disorders, a MS in Speech-Language Pathology, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Communication Sciences & Disorders and Neuroscience.

Katie Yang, BA
Graduate Student

Parkinson Disease has long been considered to be a disease primarily affecting the central nervous system, but recent findings suggest that PD may originate in peripheral innervation of muscle and organ tissue. Katie Yang’s scientific interests center on peripheral signaling from the enteric nervous system and how those signals interact with the central nervous system. Katie’s thesis work under Dr. Ciucci focuses on two main gaps in knowledge: 1.) peripheral and enteric nervous system pathology associated with PD and 2.) PD pathological alterations in the gut-brain axis that alter vocalizations. Katie Yang has a BA in Psychology with Distinction and is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in the Neuroscience Training Program.

John Szot, BS
Laboratory Manager

John brings a wide variety of experiences to the role of lab manager. After earning a B. S. in Chemical Engineering, John held positions as a product development engineer for a lighting manufacturer, a process engineer for a sewage-to-drinking-water facility, and a field engineer for an industrial control system manufacturer/installer. He then returned to graduate school, studying Biochemistry at the University of Nebraska, but left the program to take a position as Director of the DNA Microarray Facility at Penn State University’s Biotechnology Institute. John’s engineering background leads him to a keen interest in streamlining, optimizing, and/or automating processes of all kinds, including data collection, handling, and organization. He also likes to fix things that appear too old and broken to work anymore.

Jacob Lake, BS
Associate Research Specialist

Having graduated from UW-Madison in December 2015 with a BS in Neurobiology, Jacob is the newest fulltime member of the Ciucci Lab and works as our Associate Research Specialist. He previously worked in a lab studying rotationally-induced sub-concussive TBI’s, and has since turned his attention to seeking restorative treatments and outcomes for patients with neurodegenerative diseases—especially Parkinson’s disease. Jacob works closely with other researchers in the Ciucci Lab, assisting with behavioral testing and biological assays aiming to uncover restorative effects of targeted exercise training in pre-clinical Parkinsonian models. He plans on attending Graduate school in a few years, and continuing a path in academic research. Copyright © 2017 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System