Research & Think Tanks

Movement Disorders

Dr. Foote
Dr. Kelly Foote

The Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases at UF Health investigates treatments for and causes of Parkinson’s disease, PSP/atypical Parkinsonism, tics, tremor, dystonia, Huntington’s disease and other movement disorders. The interdisciplinary approach at the institute brings together top researchers from multiple fields.

Our main research areas of focus include deep brain stimulation (DBS), imaging technology, behavior and emotion, gait and balance, and speech and swallowing.

Deep brain stimulation research: Drs. Kelly Foote and Michael Okun spearhead an area at UF that is world-renowned for producing research on DBS surgery and DBS programming, and the university has been involved in all major DBS brain targets and disorders.

Imaging research: Dr. David Vaillancourt leads a research team developing new ways of imaging the brain. A recent focus has been an imaging biomarker that shows promise in tracking Parkinson disease progression over time.

Behavior and emotion research: Dr. Dawn Bowers and her laboratory also hold global recognition for their efforts to better characterize the psychophysiology associated with neurological disease, including smiles, facial expression, sweating, etc. Several major revelations for the field have emerged from their work, including the first descriptions of stimulation-induced smiles, and the first recognition of apathy as important in Parkinson’s disease.

Gait and balance research: Based in the Applied Neuromechanics Laboratory, Dr. Chris Hass leads an interdisciplinary team involved in the study of walking and balance issues in individuals with movement disorders. We are focused on evaluating the ability of exercise and novel rehabilitation methods to improve gait and balance function, enhancing the effectiveness of deep brain stimulation for gait and balance, and tracking disease-related deficits in balance and walking abilities over time.

Speech and swallowing research: Our speech pathologists are probing speech-language, voice, and cough-swallow outcomes in persons with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders. This effort carries the potential reward of discovering novel, effective and restorative treatments for speech, swallowing, and cough disorders in neurodegenerative disease.

Movement disorders database: The easiest way for our patients to participate in research is to allow us to collect their clinical data into a movement disorders database. This database serves as both a registry that allows patients to be called to participate in research projects after their visit, and as a very large data repository used for retrospective research.

Memory & Dementia

We’ve gained a wealth of knowledge about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in the last few decades. The hope is to one day discover better treatments and a cure for these disorders. The charge for a better tomorrow will be led by the relentless efforts of those in the fields of neurology and the neurosciences.

At the University of Florida, we are looking into the safety of deep brain stimulation of the fornix in patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease.

We are also investigating the impact of computerized brain fitness vs. yoga vs. an active control group (wellness education) on changes in cognitive function, daily functioning and quality of life in persons with mild cognitive impairment and their partner.

Four separate Ed and Ethel Moore Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program grants are helping us to better understand the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, develop new treatments and improve participation in clinical trials.

From these four grants, one investigation is to research the effectiveness of a novel, innovative therapy for mild cognitive impairment. A second involves an undertaking to ensure people with Alzheimer’s are included in medical research and outreach programs. A third has gone to research the regular use of acetaminophen and its effect on patients with dementia. A fourth has been applied to researching how to diagnose the disorder early so that it can be treated early.

The University of Florida is also partnered with 1Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC), which evaluates people who do or do not have memory disorders and other cognitive issues for diagnosis and participation in research studies.

Contact Julie Segura at ( for more information.

Multiple Sclerosis

With a rise in the participation of multiple sclerosis, or MS, patients in clinical trials, the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases at UF Health has seized that opportunity in order to gain invaluable knowledge of the condition.

Deep brain stimulation is also involved in recent studies surrounding multiple sclerosis, one of which focused on the use of two DBS electrodes to treat post-traumatic tremor. Another study in which we are collaborating revolves around the effects of stimulation patterns of DBS.

In addition, our MS Center is developing a database of patients suffering from fatigue.

Contact Jennifer Steshyn ( for more information.

ALS & Neuromuscular Disorders

The Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases is home to an abundance of research within the broad field of neuromuscular disorders. Many neuromuscular disorders have no proven therapies at this time. In recent years, novel drugs are being developed and tested in clinical trials. Given the rarity of many of these disorders, developing sensitive ways to monitor the disease is crucial to the development of these treatments. At the Fixel Institute, the NM division is actively involved in many trials to develop these measures and test novel treatments. Our research projects — involving ALS, Myotonic dystrophy, Charcot-Marie-Tooth, Spinal muscular atrophy, Ataxia, and others — are geared toward gaining a better grasp of the unsolved matters related to neuromuscular function and dysfunction.

We have therapeutic trials and studies investigating new medications for ALS, Friedreich ataxia, Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy, Spinocerebellar Ataxia and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder. We are participating in multi-center observational studies to assess the variability of molecular biomarkers and clinical measures in patients with myotonic dystrophy and ALS.

We develop and use the latest technologies to assess your disease, help you better understand it, and help fight the disabilities of these diseases. Division members are active participants in national and international consortia that aim to bring such therapies to the wider community of patients and families.
For more information, contact Jennifer Steshyn at

Traumatic Brain Injury

At the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases at UF Health, we explore a wide range of things within traumatic brain injuries, or TBI.

Collaborations exist with basic science researchers in the evaluation and correlation of biomarkers with diagnoses and outcomes.

An evaluation of mild TBI in collegiate athletes is ongoing. We are currently recruiting for many TBI-related clinical trials such as non-invasive nerve stimulation, developing process-specific verbal memory interventions for veterans with TBI, among others.

Contact Julie Segura ( for more information.