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Researchers, physicians gather at STAR Health Sciences complex for symposium on cerebral palsy

The University of Delaware recently played organizer and host for a symposium on cerebral palsy (CP). Attendees included researchers and clinicians from Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Christiana Care Health System, HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy (Philadelphia) and the Medical University of South Carolina.

The symposium was an opportunity for investigators from varied backgrounds to explain research areas, network and, it is hoped, collaborate more often as they battle this neurological disorder.

“CP is a major health problem, but options for helping patients are pretty limited,” said Nemours’ Rob Akins, director of the Center for Pediatric Clinical Research and Development. “Symposia like the one hosted at UD are hugely beneficial because they bring together clinicians, scientists and engineers to help overcome the challenges faced by people with CP and their families.”

A major symptom of CP is poor coordination and, in the past, the same could be said nationally for CP research and clinical collaborations. So over the past two years the National Institutes of Health held gatherings to better identify focus areas and how to hasten the process of research, which is notoriously difficult to conduct.

In the same vein as these national meetings, symposium organizer Chris Modlesky, associate professor of kinesiology and applied physiology, felt the time was right to invite investigators across the health fields to the University’s STAR Health Sciences Complex.

“When we come together, we can do a lot more for the cerebral palsy community,” explained Modlesky, associate professor of kinesiology and applied physiology. “Battling CP, like other disorders, can’t be done by one person or group. We need as many investigators as possible to work together.”

Symposium presenters included UD’s Cole Galloway, professor of physical therapy; Diane Chugani, Heidi Kecskemethy and Nancy Lennon from Nemours; and Patty Coker-Bolt and Cynthia Dodds, both of the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).

“We wanted to come meet other people who share a common interest,” said Dodds, who is an assistant professor for MUSC’s Division of Physical Therapy. “We want to translate research into clinical practice, help community therapists and better inform students.”

UD’s Michele Lobo, assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, has conducted pediatric mobility workshops at MUSC. The University already partners Christiana Care, Nemours and MUSC on the Delaware-CTR ACCEL program funded through an Institutional Development Award (IDeA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.

An immediate discussion that came together after the symposium is between MUSC and HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy. The two organizations are coordinating to jointly apply for a community participatory grant.

The symposium was really well-received by visitors to UD’s STAR Health Sciences Complex.

“Chris Modlesky had the topics well-planned,” said Coker-Bolt. “We need more discussions like this on translational research. It’s exciting to hear about all of the wonderful research discoveries could potentially impact CP patients and their families.”

The conference organizers will meet again in a few months to check on progress, including collaborations, joint grant opportunities and a possible shared database. Nemours plans to host a follow-up conference during the fall semester with researchers from as many fields as possible.

“So many different disciplines are involved in this area. CP is primarily a brain disorder, but there are obviously large consequences on the whole body,” said Nemours’ Freeman Miller, orthopedic surgeon in the Department of Orthopedics. “More opportunities to talk to each other will help with our ultimate goal — improve the quality of life for people with CP.”


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