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Tyler Saumur

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?
A: I was born in Ajax, Ontario and grew up in Whitby, Ontario. I spent most of my childhood keeping busy playing hockey and baseball. I completed my undergraduate degree in kinesiology at Wilfrid Laurier University where I had the privilege of working alongside Dr. Stephen Perry on an undergraduate thesis. Over the past 3 years, I have spent time in research as a research assistant and coordinator in multiple labs in tandem with completing my master’s degree at the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute at the University of Toronto.

Q: What compelled you to pursue stroke research?
A: Originally when I undertook my studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, I always told people I wanted to be a “sports therapist”. It didn’t take me long to realize I didn’t have much of knack for musculoskeletal injury and the various wrapping maneuvers in my sports medicine class. In the third year of my undergraduate degree, I began to develop an interest in the brain and, in particular, just how plastic it can be. While I was exploring these new interests, a friend of mine experienced a stroke. It was the first time I had been exposed to someone close to me experiencing such an acute life-changing event. While she was recovering and regaining function, I was reading “The Brain That Changes Itself” By Norman Doidge and I had an increased appreciation for the true power of what the brain can accomplish. These events inevitably changed my focus in my degree, as I focused more on neurophysiology and movement disorders, and trying to improve and optimize stroke recovery.

Q: What is the focus of your research?
A: Currently, I am completing my thesis under the supervision of Dr. George Mochizuki at Sunnybrook Research Institute. The focus of my research is on understanding the cortical and spinal contributions to optimizing motor preparation in an intact, healthy central nervous system. In individuals who have experience a stroke, the ability to prepare and execute rapid movements is often impaired. My thesis seeks to understand what excitatory processes occur during motor preparation in an intact central nervous system so that these processes can be compared to those who have experienced a stroke. By upregulating or downregulating certain pathways in the brain, we may be able to alter these preparatory processes and optimize stroke survivors’ motor preparation and execution.

Q: At what stage are you in your research, and what are your future plans?
A: I am presently nearing the conclusion of my master’s degree, hoping to defend my thesis in June of this year. I plan on pursuing my PhD degree in the fall within the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute and explore more applied research to stroke survivors. Upon completion of my PhD, I plan on staying in research, either in an academic setting or industry environment and advancing future stroke research in the years to come.

Q: How do you and others benefit from being part of the National Trainee Association?
A: The National Trainee Association (NTA) is a fantastic initiative that I have been thankful to be a part of for the past two years. Being at one of the partner institutes at Sunnybrook, I am privy to the weekly research rounds in which I am exposed to the large breadth of expertise of Canadian stroke researchers. One of the most rewarding experiences I have been apart of within the NTA is the yearly SPiN workshops. Two years ago, with the event being in Toronto, I was able to actively participate in the demonstrations within our lab and also learn about other resources and research in neighbouring labs and institutes. Last year, I had the privilege of travelling to Vancouver and the beautiful UBC campus to learn about the fantastic research being conducted out west. These events provide excellent networking opportunities and potential collaborative prospects.

Q: What other interests do you have?
A: Outside of research, I enjoy relaxing with my fiancée and our cat, barbecuing and watching movies. In my free time, I enjoy biking, playing sports and grabbing some food and refreshments with friends. I’m a huge sports fan and was definitely pumped to have had both the Raptors and Leafs in the playoffs this year.