Film Production Diary #4: Is Cycling Medicine? Why we went to Las Vegas to find the answer.Team Larry / Friday, May 13th, 2011 / 2 Comments »
Las Vegas, Nevada is known for a lot of things (see the movie The Hangover for more specific references), but beyond the casino floors, buffets, and overzealous tourists are MRI machines and the white lab coats running them. Those MRI machines and lab coats are located in the Cleveland Clinic’s new Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.
When you first see the newly minted, iconic structure designed by Frank Gehry, it appears as if some child giant had his way with a plastic building, magnifying glass, and the intense Las Vegas sun. The clinic is tucked away behind an outlet mall in Las Vegas’s downtown district (more of an afterthought to the strip), surrounded by old hotels circa Martin Scorcese’s Casino, and a buffet of Elvis-style wedding chapels.
However, within this building are minds as creative and brilliant in the world of science as Frank Gehry is to the world of architecture. Both Gehry and those who work within his walls literally bend the rules, manipulating old-perceptions, and changing the way we think about structures of form and medicine.
Although the clinic houses a myriad of researchers and social workers that treat other neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s, we were there for Dr. Jay Alberts who stopped by his secondary office in Las Vegas (his primary research is in Cleveland) to share his ground-breaking research into cycling and Parkinson’s.
Larry has often stated, “when I’m on my trike, I don’t have Parkinson’s”. It turns out he’s not the only one.
Nearly a decade ago Dr. Alberts, an avid cyclist himself, participated in the oldest continuous bike tour, Iowa’s RAGBRAI. Riding with him was a Parkinson’s patient named Cathy. Cathy hopped on a tandem bike with Dr. Alberts and by the end of RAGBRAI, Cathy’s symptoms improved markedly. Somehow cycling, an exercise that utilizes one’s legs, had an impact on Cathy’s upper extremities. And the improvements seemed to last.
Dr. Alberts began to look further, he told us as we interviewed him in the Dr. Seuss-like conference hall within the clinic (see picture below). He began to test the benefits of cycling after turning off a patient’s DBS implant. Once the DBS was off, the Parkinson’s tremors quickly returned. However, after some vigorous tandem cycling, the tremors began to dissipate.
Now, almost a decade later, Dr. Alberts has published his findings and is conducting a long-term study to see whether cycling could offset, delay, or prevent Parkinson’s symptoms in the early stages. For more information on participating yourself, see the bottom of this post.
So, is cycling medicine? Dr. Alberts has tested various patients with Parkinson’s after they’ve undergone forced exercise cycling (you are forced to peddle at a certain rate), or voluntary cycling (you go the rate you can), with a patient’s DBS turned on, with a patient’s DBS turned off, with medication, and without. These patients then underwent a series of MRI tests to track brain functioning (which we got a chance to film!). After the data was analyzed, Dr. Alberts and his team found that forced exercise stimulates portions of the brain at almost an identical rate as DBS. And cycling comes without any of the side affects from medications and surgical procedures.
Is cycling medicine? According to Dr. Alberts and the results of his research, it appears so.
Is Team Larry convinced? ABSOLUTELY.
If a patient can be proactive in making themselves feel better, do something healthy for his/her body, and can effectively take part in one’s own treatment, isn’t that, in essence, a cure? Although cycling won’t end Parkinson’s or prevent its ultimate march forward, you can put up a fight, you can push your body forward and cycle against the wind.
Dr. Alberts, his team, and the Cleveland Clinic’s marketing/communications director, Nicole Wolf, were amazing hosts for the day. They gave us their time and allowed us to film the vastness of what they do on a daily basis. We saw MRI tests, interviewed Dr. Alberts, took a tour of the facility, and ended the day with Dr. Alberts and one of his patients, a woman just one year into her diagnosis at 48 years old.
It was an amazing experience that helped us understand why cycling is important in the lives of those with Parkinson’s. If we can help spread this message and get more people to start exercising, then we filmmakers can go home happy.
After our celebratory Las Vegas buffet dinner it’s time for us filmmakers to get on a bike too!
In a few weeks we are off to South Dakota where we’ll start getting ready for the BIG RIDE!! Have you registered yet?
To read more on Dr. Alberts, go to the Keep Memory Alive magazine, page 12.
Or you can view his profile at the Lerner Research Institute.
To see Dr. Alberts in the news:
NBC Nightly News story with Dr. Jay Alberts
ABC Good Morning America story with Dr. Jay Alberts
If you are interested in participating in Dr. Alberts research:
In-home Exercise Program for Parkinson’s Disease
The purpose of this study is to gain a better understanding of how exercise affects brain function and symptoms in those diagnosed with early Parkinson’s disease. Participation may involve exercising 3-5 days per week for 6 months.
Who can participate?
Individuals with a clinical diagnosis of PD, between the ages of 30-75 years and those who are not currently taking prescription medication for PD are eligible to participate. Individuals with cardiac or pulmonary disease, diabetes, uncontrolled hypertension or a history of stroke are not eligible.
Principal Investigator: Jay Alberts, PhD
For more information, contact Mandy Penko at 216.636.9717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.