NIH Will Fund Study to Improve Walking Ability in Children With Cerebral Palsy

NIH Will Fund Study to Improve Walking Ability in Children With Cerebral Palsy

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a $2.5 million research grant to study the effectiveness of an innovative approach to improve the ability of children with cerebral palsy to walk.

This translational research grant was awarded to Noelle Moreau, PhD, an associate professor of physical therapy at Louisiana State University Health New Orleans School of Allied Health Professions. Moreau has built her research on understanding the neuromuscular mechanisms behind the abnormal force production that affects children and adolescents with cerebral palsy. She also uses her research to develop more effective rehabilitation strategies for these young people.

“Current rehabilitation practice uses motor learning principles related to specificity of practice, or task-specific training, for improving walking in those with neurological disorders, such as cerebral palsy,” Moreau said in a press release.

Her research, however, will focus on muscular development. “In this intervention, we will address muscle power, a key ingredient that is missing from current clinical practice for children with cerebral palsy, and combine it in a package of care with a task-specific training protocol that allows the participants to practice using muscle power generation during the functional task of walking,” she said.

Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition that also leads to secondary musculoskeletal problems.  The musculoskeletal issues affect gait and walking ability. Some estimates suggest that walking ability significantly deteriorates in approximately 50 percent of ambulatory children with cerebral palsy, beginning in childhood/adolescence. Of these children, more than half will completely lose their ability to walk by the age of 25. This dramatically affects the quality of life in these children and young adults.

Moreau’s innovative approach will investigate the effects of PT3 (power training combined with interval treadmill training) on functional walking capacity, muscle performance and architecture.

Power training is a type of exercise that maximizes both strength and speed of movement. Unlike strength training, power training emphasizes that the movement should be performed as fast as possible.

Recruitment will begin soon for this multi-center clinical study. The study will include 24 ambulatory children with cerebral palsy who are between the ages of 10 and 17. These children will be assigned randomly to receive either power training or an equivalent dosage of traditional strength training. These exercises will be combined with traditional treadmill training for 24 sessions, three times per week for eight weeks.

The main goal is to determine if power training affects functional walking capacity in ambulatory children with cerebral palsy. More in-depth analysis will include looking at how this type of training directly affects the muscle — how it looks and how it performs. The study also will evaluate  PT3′s effect on community-based walking activity and participation using new, mobile-sensing technology.

Moreau said she is excited about this funding announcement and the potential impact of her research. “This intervention represents a paradigm shift in clinical practice by addressing the specific underlying muscular mechanisms responsible for walking limitations in this group,” she said.

For more information about study recruitment, contact Moreau at (504) 568-4291 or [email protected].