Mechanisms of Human Movement Disorders
Movement disorders commonly occur following neurological damage. My laboratory studies the movements of adults and children who have damage or disease of the central nervous system. We are interested in understanding the mechanisms of different types of movement disorders, as well as how and why different treatments improve movement. We are actively studying how new movements are "learned" and what the course of movement recovery following different types brain damage is.
Much of our work has focused on understanding how damage to the cerebellum causes movement incoordination or "ataxia." Our research suggests that one important role of the cerebellum is to adjust the motor output controlling a given part of the body to compensate for mechanical effects caused by movement of other body parts (interaction torques). Our current studies of people with cerebellar damage are aimed at understanding the mechanisms of walking ataxia, motor learning deficits, and are beginning studies of impairments in motor 'prediction'. We are also studying locomotor disorders in people with stroke as well as visuomotor control and learning in children with autism.
My lab interacts with neurologists, physical therapists, biomedical engineers, and neuroscientists. We employ several techniques to quantify movement including: 3-dimensional tracking and reconstruction of movement kinematics, recordings of muscle activity, force plate recordings, and calculation of joint forces and torques. We also use novel devices to test learning including a split belt treadmill and simple computer generated virtual environments. These techniques allow us to make very precise measurements of many different types of movements including: walking, reaching, leg movements, hand movements and standing balance. This also makes it possible to detect very small changes in movement performance over time or with treatment.