Dr. Karen Hegland


Karen Hegland, PhD

Name of Institution:

University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

Project Title:

Low utilization of deep brain stimulation (DBS) therapy among minoritized individuals with Parkinson disease

Investigator Bio:

Dr. Karen Hegland is an Associate Professor in the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences at the University of Florida, where she also serves as Associate Department Chair and Program Director of the Master’s program for Speech-Language Pathology. She is Principal Investigator of the Laboratory for the study of Upper Airway Dysfunction (UAD lab), whose mission it is to improve clinical outcomes and quality of life in patients with speech, swallow and/or cough disorders through research, clinical care, and education. Dr. Hegland’s research interests include disorders of the upper airway and respiratory systems resulting from neurodegenerative diseases, with a focus on Parkinson disease (PD) and atypical forms of Parkinsonism.

Dr. Hegland received her PhD in 2006 from the University of Florida, and then went on to complete a Career Development Award through Veterans Affairs (VA) at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville, Florida. Following that, she completed NIH funded postdoctoral training under the mentorship of Dr. Paul Davenport, where she focused on respiratory physiology and respiratory somatosensation. She joined the faculty at the University of Florida in 2012 and was granted tenure and promotion in 2018. She has been funded by the NIH since 2014, and her highly collaborative research has led to advances in the understanding and management of airway protection disorders in PD.

Dr. Hegland’s current studies are focused on understanding the impact of deep brain stimulation (DBS) on upper airway functions in people with PD, as well as disparities in the utilization of DBS among different patient groups.


The objectives include: 1) Identifying patient predictors for DBS surgery, 2) Exploring patients’ perceptions of key factors affecting DBS acceptance, and 3) Examining racial differences in quality of life among DBS recipients.


Deep brain stimulation (DBS) has proven effective in reducing tremors and other symptoms in PD patients, but there are disparities in its utilization, particularly among different racial groups. This study aims to identify the factors that contribute to these disparities and understand their long-term impact on patients’ quality of life.


This study uses a mixed methods approach. First, a large clinical database will be used to identify eligible PD patients for DBS based on neurologist referrals. Then, a local group of PD patients will be interviewed to explore their DBS experiences. Lastly, electronic health records will be used to measure quality of life among DBS recipients, specifically examining racial differences.

Relevance to Diagnosis/Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease:

This unique study focuses on understanding and addressing racial disparities in DBS care access individuals with PD. By combining quantitative and qualitative approaches, Dr. Hegland’s research will shed light on the barriers preventing patients from accessing cutting-edge care. This knowledge will empower healthcare professionals to eliminate these barriers, ensuring all PD patients, regardless of race, can benefit from the best possible care.