Doctoral Student in Ciucci Lab Awarded Prestigious NIH Fellowship Award

Maryann Krasko, M.S.
Maryann Krasko, M.S.

Maryann Krasko, MS, a doctoral student in UW’s Communication Sciences and Disorders program, envisions a world where patients with neurodegenerative disorders – who struggle with many complicated and debilitating symptoms – can at least retain the ability to use their voice to communicate clearly. Now, with funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s prestigious Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (F31) program, she will be able to take the first step toward realizing this goal through her dissertation research.

Working with her mentor, Michelle Ciucci, PhD, CCC-SLP, a Professor in the Division of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery and College of Letters and Science Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Krasko’s study will focus on understanding how vocal deficits manifest in early Parkinson’s disease. These deficits, such as decreased loudness and problems articulating words clearly, are related to the way that the disease impacts the vagus nerve and the regions of the brain that are served by this nerve. Vocal changes are some of the earliest signs of Parkinson’s disease (often appearing decades before diagnosis), worsen over time, and do not respond to currently available treatments. Krasko believes that a better understanding of exactly how Parkinson’s disease affects the vagus nerve could lead to earlier detection of the disease and help identify potential therapeutic targets for which new treatments could be developed – all of which could significantly improve patient quality of life.

With this goal in mind, Krasko will study how vocal dysfunction develops in the earliest stage of Parkinson’s disease in a rat model and how the development of these deficits may be different in males versus females.

“If we can identify the earliest signs of vocal breakdown and where and how this is happening in the brain, this could help us improve the early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease in both male and female patients, for whom disease symptoms may differ. It could also lead to more targeted and effective treatments,” said Krasko. “I’m honored to have been selected by the NIH to receive this F31 award, and I’m so thankful to Dr. Ciucci for her ongoing mentorship and support.”

The above text was modified from the UW-Madison Department of Surgery original article to highlight Dr. Ciucci’s connection to the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, add links to departmental biographical pages, and use different images. View the original article here: