Post Doctoral Research

Prior to graduation I had received funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at NIH for a National Research Service Award (NRSA post-doctoral fellowship) to work in the lab of Jaynie Yang at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. 

The goals of my fellowship were to continue research in motor control but transition from insects to human subjects.  I wanted to continue to investigate load detection and interaction of pattern generators within and across local circuits.  I used the human infant as a model of spinal locomotion as the descending corticospinal tracts are not developed at 7 to 8 months of age in humans.  In these studies, I utilized surface electromyography and 3D motion capture to investigate how loading of arms during crawling changed motor and kinematic gait patterns.

We showed that the metachronal gait mechanics are native to locomotion in the infant spinal motor control system and may be evolutionarily conserved [4, 5]. In addition, we also recorded respiration during treadmill locomotion and found that, very slow stepping frequencies had the ability to also lower the resting respiration rate [6]. This finding provided evidence that the pattern generators in the spinal cord can communicate with each other, and this information could potentially be used in clinical application to control respiration rate in premature infants.

Jaynie Yang also ran a spinal cord injury clinic while I was a post-doc working for her and I developed an interest in how to train individuals to walk again after spinal injury. I was particularly interested in the fact that many of the injured patients were young and talked to me about playing video games. 

I realized that the short-term scoring combined with the long-term scoring systems present in many dance simulation games (Dance Dance Revolution) were ideally suited to motivate patients to continue to train after they plateaued on treadmill training. 

In addition, I became very interested in how cortical changes and plasticity related to playing these dance games could modulate motor circuits in the spinal cord related to arm and leg movements.  One of my Japanese post-doctoral colleagues introduced me to a new neuroimaging technique that allowed participants to move in real life situations.  This technique was functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS).  At the time this technique was largely being developed in Japan and full cortical coverage systems were only available in the Japanese domestic market.  I travelled to Japan during holidays to collect data and learn how to operate the system. This project was my first neuroimaging experience, and I learned the basics of neuroimaging experimental design, data collection and analysis.  While in Japan I developed several life-long collaborations and continued collecting data on a project that aimed to reduce fall risk in individuals with spinal injury. In addition to fNIRS, I also collaborated on an fMRI cognitive neuroimaging experiment while in Japan and this study was my first opportunity to publish in the field of neuroimaging [7].