Michelle R. Ciucci is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Communication Sciences and Disorders and Surgery-Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery and faculty in the Neuroscience Training Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her translational research program is directed at improving treatments for voice and swallowing disorders. She works with animal models as well as human clinical populations. Dr. Ciucci’s larger research framework aims to elucidate the relevant neurobiological processes that affect disease progression and how targeted exercise may slow or reverse the degenerative processes. Understanding these mechanisms will lead to better treatments and functional outcomes for patients with Parkinson Disease and other neurologic disease, including drug discovery and repurposing along with behavior interventions.

Basic Science: Ciucci’s basic science program addresses several aspects of Parkinson disease. The pathology of Parkinson disease is complex and the pathogenesis underlying cranial sensorimotor behaviors, such as voice and swallowing deficits, is virtually unknown. Further, the onset of these deficits may occur in the preclinical periods. To address these issues in the basic science laboratory, Ciucci’s lab employs neurotoxin and genetic rat and mouse models of Parkinson disease and tests the onset and progression of vocalization, tongue use, chewing, functional swallowing, olfaction, forelimb use, and gait deficits. The primary goals are to relate these behavioral deficits to the complex pathology of PD in order to improve behavioral, pharmacological, and surgical interventions.

Clinical Science: High Resolution Manometry: This collaboration explores developing and implementing high resolution manometry and a research and clinical tool that can detect subtle changes to swallow physiology. Swallowing is a critical life function that must be performed safely to ensure adequate nutrition and avoid airway compromise; failure can lead to life threatening complications. Complex pressures are generated during the swallow and directly measuring timing and pressure events during the swallow can provide a great deal of information for diagnosing and treating swallowing problems. This line of research develops and tests a new method of analyzing, displaying, and classifying multiple pressures and images generated during the swallow to allow physicians and speech language pathologists to improve the accuracy of diagnosis and management of swallowing disorders.

Teaching and Service: Ciucci runs a vibrant laboratory training undergraduate and graduate students as well as post-doctoral fellows. She teaches 4 courses for the Department of Communication Sciences and disorders: The Neural Basis of Communication (undergraduate), Craniofacial, Voice, and Fluency Disorders (undergraduate), Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders (graduate), Prosem (Doctoral Seminar). She also mentors students from several university interdisciplinary STEM programs. Dr. Ciucci Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, on the steering committee for the Neuroscience Training Program, and the executive committee for the newly formed Neurobiology Major. She is also a member of the Board of Directors for the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders.

Scholarship: Professor Ciucci has authored over 45 peer-reviewed published scientific journal articles and 8 book chapters, and has given numerous national and international talks on her research and clinical experience. She has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (F32, R01, P30, T32) and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research.