At the Foundation’s recent annual meeting, $1.125 million was appropriated towards five pilot research grants, an Ethel & Jack Hausman Clinical Research Scholars Award recipient, and a new special project, research platform on “Pain in the Adult with Cerebral Palsy.” An additional $260,000 is dedicated to continuing research projects, bringing the total number of research dollars allocated to nearly $1.4 million. The CPIRF extends its gratitude for funding support received from both The Hearst Foundation and the F.M. Kirby Foundation for the grants specified below.
1. Award Winner to Advance Neuroimaging & Education
The Ethel & Jack Hausman Clinical Research Scholars Award recipient is Christopher D. Smyser, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Washington University/St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
The objective of the Ethel & Jack Hausman Clinical Research Scholars Award is to assist institutions in the United Sates to foster promising clinician-investigators early in their careers and to help in their establishment as independent researchers in areas of direct relevance to cerebral palsy. This grant to Dr. Smyser is funded in part by The Hearst Foundation.
Dr. Smyser’s funding will be appropriated to an innovative advanced neuroimaging approach in an investigation of prematurely-born infants to provide insight into the earliest forms of functional brain development and further define the effects of cerebral injury. Award funds are designed to specifically help Dr. Smyser improve neurological care for infants and management of neurodevelpment disorders at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Funding will additionally enable Dr. Smyser to provide medical students, resident physicians and fellow physicians with the knowledge and clinical skills necessary to assess infants with neurological concerns and neurodevelopmental disabilities and develop comprehensive management plans for patient care.
2. Improving Pain Treatment in Adults
A special project research grant has been awarded to Dr. David Roye and Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky at Columbia Cerebral Palsy Center in New York for their research platform on Pain in the Adult with Cerebral Palsy. The purpose of this two-year project is to begin to address the scarcity of data related to the experience of pain for adults with cerebral palsy, to ultimately devise better pain treatment in these adults, providing a transformative addition to medical knowledge and patient care. The current published data deals mainly with prevalence and few articles discuss treatment efficacy or etiology. Contributing is the relatively subjective nature of pain coupled with the difficulty of assessing pain, especially in non-communicative or cognitively impaired people with CP. The specific aim of this research platform is to ultimately produce tangible and influential advances in the evaluation and understanding of pain in the entire population of adults with CP.
3. Voice and Speech Treatment in Spastic CP
A pilot research grant has been awarded to Carol A. Boliek, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta in Canada. The study, funded in part by F.M. Kirby Foundation, will focus on the effects of a specific speech treatment in children with CP. The hope is that this work will lead to National Institute of Health and Canadian Institutes for Health Research grant applications to fund large-scale treatment studies, the results of which have the potential to significantly affect voice and speech treatment delivery to children with CP.
This pilot study will focus on speech deficits in spastic CP, the most common type of CP, which causes a high degree of muscle tightness. It affects approximately 50% of cases. Speech deficits associated with CP can have significant functional consequences on children, affecting their potential for academic advancement, social and emotional development, and eventual independence and participation in the work force. Trial and error interventions characterize current best practice in voice and speech treatment with this population, resulting in frequent mismatches. This study will generate insight on how to enhance treatment outcomes and extend the duration of treatment effects. Ultimately the goal will be to predict which types of structural and functional brain profiles respond best to a complex continuum of treatment approaches.
4. Brain Manipulation & Medication to Improve Motor Function
A pilot research grant, funded in part by The Hearst Foundation, has been awarded to Hsiu-Ling Li, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at SUNY downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. This grant will vigorously test the hypothesis of how maladaptive plasticity (a non-typically developed brain, inflexible to change) could exacerbate motor deficits in children with congenital hemiplegia (a condition affecting one side of the body caused by brain damage before, during or soon after birth). To date, causes remain elusive and effective treatments are in critical need. This study will combine optogenetics, which probes neural circuits at the high speeds needed to understand brain information processing, and live-imaging to directly investigate the progressive component of hemiplegic CP that occurs during early development. A better understanding of the cellular basis of this maladaptive plasticity will help the design of new therapies involving manipulation of specific cortical area activity. The study will also aid in identifying new medications to correct mal-development after early brain injury.
5. Using a Mouse Model to Understand Brain Reorganization
More than half of cerebral palsy patients have brains showing some disorganization of the cortex as do many related conditions, including intellectual disability and epilepsy. Research fellow Sung-Jin Jeong at Children’s Hospital in the Boston Department of Medicine is the recipient of a research grant to enrich the understanding of the pathogenesis (disease development process) of cerebral palsy and other neurological disorders resulting from disrupted neural migration by studying brain specimens in mice. The hope is that better understanding will lead to effective treatments.
6. Robots Assisting in Movement
Dr. Adam Kirton, Associate Professor, Pediatrica & Clinical Neuroscience at Calgary Pediatric Stroke Program, Alberta Children’s Hospital in Canada has earned a grant for a study using children between the ages of 6 and 18 and robots to provide a profound opportunity to better understand sensory dysfunction in the developing brains of children with CP. Proprioception – the sensation of position, motion, and force – is essential for limb function but remains unquantifiable in perinatal stroke and CP. Improved therapeutic strategies could benefit tens of thousands of children globally with hemiplegic CP (a condition affecting one side of the body).
7. The Role of Genetics
Neuropsychologist John Connolly of the Center for Applied Genomics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was awarded a grant, funded in part by The Hearst Foundation, to outline a powerful methodology aimed at delivering important insights into the genetic causes of CP. He predicts that genetic defects collectively constitute a substantial proportion of all CP cases and that recent developments in genomic technology now offer an unprecedented opportunity to acquire a sophisticated understanding of the genetic causes of CP, and ultimately, reduce its impact and prevalence.