Celebrating cerebral palsy research and community engagement on World CP Day

October 5, 2016

On the eve of World CP Day 2106, NeuroDevNet and the Network's cerebral palsy researchers convened the sixth annual CP in Motion conference in Calgary.

This highly experiential October 1 gathering, including keynotes, community consultation and visits to labs and clinical facilities at the University of Alberta Children's Hospital, drew a diverse audience of health professionals parents and people with CP. A highlight of the event was the tour of labs and clinical settings featuring NeuroDevNet and other studies currently underway within the Calgary-based hospital and its research institute.

"I also point with pride to the transformational work in cerebral palsy championed by our CP research group," says NeuroDevNet Scientific Director Dr. Dan Goldowitz. We celebrate their accomplishments and contributions to improving the health and wellbeing of children and youth with CP, and support for their families."

Genetic finding provides new insights into causes of CP
Our outstanding cerebral palsy investigators Drs. Maryam Oskoui and Michael Shevell collaborated with Autism research program co-lead Dr. Stephen Scherer to produce a hallmark finding related to early diagnosis and intervention in CP. By mining our national Cerebral Palsy Registry and applying cutting-edge genomic methodology, the cross-disciplinary group delivered a first-time insight that now stands alongside stroke, oxygen deprivation and infections as a potential cause of CP. 

Exploring the biology behind gains from constraint therapy
Thirty years ago, the scientific community doubted a damaged brain could ever regenerate itself. Today, Dr. Derek van der Kooy and his University of Toronto team are focusing on interventions that may be key to reversing brain damage in children with cerebral palsy (CP). Constraint induced movement therapy immobilizes the stronger limb, forcing the patient to use -- and hopefully improve -- function in the weaker one. Dr. van der Kooy and his team believe CIMT works by activating cells  that produce new neurons and glial cells that could potentially regenerate the brain. The team’s goal is to confirm and test whether CIMT in a mouse model of CP stimulates these cells and causes observable recovery. 

New online resource for clinicians treating CP
Dr. Darcy Fehlings led the development of the American Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine's new ‘Care Pathways’ resource. The program website went live two weeks ago, with the aim of providing clinicians with up-to-date, evidence-informed tools for treating cerebral palsy. Three pathways have been developed: one for osteoporosis prevention and management; one for dystonia management; and one for sialorrhea, which causes excessive drooling in children with cerebral palsy. More content will come online soon, according to Dr. Fehlings.

Stem Cell Debate at the Karolinska Institute
Canadian researchers "rocked" a major international gathering of CP and developmental researchers held at Sweden's Karolinska Institute June 1-4, 2016. “Challenge the Boundaries” included a very popular debate, “Neural Precursor Stem Cells – the Hope and the Hype: Are We Ready?” featuring NeuroDevNet's Dr. Michael Fehlings and Dr. Iona Novack of the Cerebral Palsy Alliance in Sydney, Australia, and moderated by Dr. Darcy Fehlings. Arguing counter to his own belief, Dr. Michael Fehlings convinced 3/4 of the audience of 150 that the evidence for neural stem cells does not yet support clinical trials.

New book examines animal models and their role in increasing understanding of neurodevelopmental disabilities
CP research group co-lead Dr. Jerry Yager edited a new book, "Animal Models of NeuroDevelopmental Disorders" in 2105. The work includes 16 chapters, with several featuring contributions by NeuroDevNet researchers. The work provides a spectrum of models relevant to investigating causes, outcomes, treatment, and prevention across a broad range of disabilities including perinatal hypoxia-ischemia/cerebral palsy and stroke, autism spectrum disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome, as well as intellectual disability. Available via Springer, the publisher's website, the volume has been downloaded 2,898 times, and is available through Amazon in North America and the UK.

Stakeholders' CP research priorities focus on prevention and recovery
“We know from international colleagues that among [CP] research priorities, the number one thing is stakeholders want interventions focused on prevention. Number two is to do research on stem cells in general: prevention and neurorecovery,“ says Dr. Darcy Fehlings.

"With our focus on diagnosis and treatment, NeuroDevNet comes at things not from a prevention focus per se," she adds, "but when I was giving a talk about preventing further injuries and facilitating neural repair and regeneration, I highlighted that we’re looking at constraint therapy for hemiplegia [from a basic science perspective in Dr. Derek Van der Kooy’s project], and we’re preventing secondary complications of social isolation and lack of cardiovascular fitness with the Liberi exercycle. There’s lots of ways prevention can be looked at.”