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Stroke Program in Neurorecovery brings promising research into focus

Fifty-five stroke recovery research trainees gathered in Vancouver from Oct. 23 to 25 to listen to prominent researchers, visit labs and facilities, hear stroke patients talk about their personal challenges, and network with other young investigators.

The three-day workshop was a major success with 97% of attendees surveyed reporting they learned something new, 86% reporting they had strengthened their networks, and 85% reporting they planned to apply again next year and would recommend the workshop to other trainees. (Read some of their comments, below)

The Stroke Program in Neurorecovery (SPiN) drew participants from across Canada, as well as several new investigators from labs in the United States. Among highlights were:

  • meeting the trainees, who introduced their diverse research areas. Their backgrounds included research into the effects of exercise on the brain, the stroke-dementia connection, the impact of video gaming and virtual reality on recovery, the emerging field of optogenetics, the effect of diabetes on recovery, the use of brain stimulation to help children with perinatal stroke regain hand function, the role of robotics in recovery, the use of exoskeletons to improve walking, the role of a high-fat diet in worsening stroke outcomes, the promise of stem cells to boost recovery, and more.
  • UBC’s Dr. Tim Murphy delivered an engaging lecture on his basic research involving mice that uses imaging, brain stimulation technologies that activate or inhibit neurons, and cranial windows to provide insight into brain plasticity after stroke. Dr. Murphy described how the brain changes not only in damaged areas but also in areas seemingly unaffected by stroke. “When we think about stroke we need to think about the whole network,” he said. “You throw one monkey wrench into the brain’s computer and everything goes down.” The goal of his research is to look for new routes of recovery.
  • Researchers at G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre ran workshops into some fascinating new areas of study including the role of mindfulness and meditation on improved mental health outcomes, balance, and physical changes in the brain after stroke (and participants even learned to meditate); the cognitive and neural factors that influence adherence to exercise programs; the role of sleep in recovery to improve cognitive function, memory and healing the brain. Better sleep quality is associated with a reduced risk of stroke, diabetes, dementia and more.
  • CPSR Scientific Director Dr. Dale Corbett highlighted the critical importance of having basic and clinical investigators work together to answer key clinical questions. He described the increased need to focus on recovery because stroke is survivable and has become a disease of chronic disability. He lectured on his research into behavioural testing, the role of enriched environments, and the value of combination approaches to optimize rehabilitation.  
  • Four stroke survivors shared their personal stories with trainees and talked about how they benefited from participating in CPSR-funded trials such as DOSE, which looks at the timing and intensity of rehabilitation.
  • Dr. Sean Dukelow of the University of Calgary provided an insightful overview of the role of robotics and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in measuring post-stroke deficits and enhancing recovery.
  • UBC’s Dr. Janice Eng provided trainees with a step-by-step description of how clinical trials are designed and the work that takes place at each stage.
  • UBC’s Dr. Lara Boyd shared her research into how white matter changes in the brain and covert lesions predict recovery from stroke; the use of repetitive TMS to stimulate motor learning; and the need for individual and highly-tailored treatments for stroke because there is so much variability in recovery.

Learn more about the CPSR National Trainee Association and how to get involved HERE.

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