I will visit the Brain Ageing and Cognitive Health Lab at the University of Pittsburgh to work with Associate Professor Kirk Erickson and his colleagues. Assoc Prof Erickson is an international coinvestigator on my project, entitled "Aerobic exercise to increase efficacy of task-specific training for the upper limb after stroke: a feasibility study". This collaboration took seed at the Stroke Society of Australasia Stroke 2014 conference where Assoc Prof Erickson was a keynote speaker. An initial investigators meeting took place between Prof vanVliet, Assoc Prof Erickson and Prof Michael Nilsson, during which Assoc Prof Erickson was invited to become a co-investigator due to his expertise in the field of neuroplasticity changes in response to exercise programmes (particularly in the older adult and chronic neurological disease populations) with 166 publications featuring in journals such as Nature Reviews Neuroscience and Trends in Cognitive Sciences which rank 1st and 3rd by impact factor in the field of Neuroscience, respectively.
I commenced work on the project one month later (September 2014) and on top of my previous experience in both medical and exercise sectors am well-equipped to oversee the execution of the trial, with strategic stroke rehabilitation support from Prof vanVliet and Prof Robin Callister who have extensive research experience and expertise in task-specific training and exercise interventions with stroke survivors, respectively.
Gaining knowledge from Assoc Prof Erickson will be invaluable as the aim of my project is to use exercise to induce neuroplastic changes that will enhance upper limb recovery after stroke. This enhancement occurs through the "priming" of brain function by the exercise-induced boost in neuroplasticity, yielding increased benefits from subsequent training2-4. In my trial, subsequent training will be upper limb task-specific training which comprises of breaking down daily skills (such as grasping, transporting and using everyday objects) into part movements which are practiced repeatedly (100-300 reps/day) to stimulate the neural reorganisation that underlies motor learning, with the aim of improving ability to carry out activities of daily life.
During my visit I will gain experience in running an exercise programme and acquire skills in measuring parameters in exercise studies in various chronic neurological disease and older adult populations which will have considerably different safety considerations than normal healthy populations. I will also learn motivational techniques and how to promote adherence to the exercise programme. This is also a prime opportunity for the University of Newcastle and HMRI to nurture a new and prestigious collaboration since Times Higher Education ranked the University of Pittsburgh as 91st in the World University Rankings 2014-15.5 Additionally one of the emphases of our NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Stroke Rehabilitation and Brain Recovery (which was won in 2015 on which Prof Nilsson is a CIB and Prof vanVliet is a CID) is neuroplasticity, so Assoc Prof Erickson’s involvement will be a significant asset to the group.
The conference I will attend is the ICSMES 2015: XIII International Conference on Sport Medicine and Exercise Science in Chicago on October 8-9th. I have submitted an abstract for presentation entitled "Effect Of Combining Other Interventions With Task-Specific Training To Improve Upper Limb Function And Impairment Following Stroke: A Systematic Review" and will be notified on April 8th if I have been successful. Presentations will include relevant topics such as Exercise is Medicine, Exercise Physiology, Motor function, Physiotherapy, Physical Activity and Physical Rehabilitation6.