Canada Research Chair in Sensorimotor Control
Tier 2 - 2012-07-01
Using non-invasive techniques in humans such as transcranial magnetic stimulation and neuroimaging to determine how sensory input affects neural activity within brain areas that control hand and upper limb function.
Will lead to the development of new therapies to improve hand and upper limb function in patients with neurological impairment such as stroke and focal hand dystonia
Giving Hope to Those with Impaired Hand Function
In the 1990s, classical guitarist Liona Boyd was on top of the world with five Juno awards and a thriving career as “Canada’s first lady of the guitar”. By 2002, she was sidelined with a debilitating neurological disorder that had her struggling to control the fingers of her right hand.
The culprit was focal hand dystonia (FHD), a movement disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that occur during a specific skilled hand movement. It affects one in 2,000 individuals, many of them musicians, surgeons, writers and others whose professions rely on fine motor skills. Affected individuals are often treated with botox injections, which relax the muscles, but these are ineffective in many patients and some develop resistant antibodies.
Using cutting-edge techniques in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), Dr. Aimee Nelson is advancing our knowledge of the connection between FHD and that part of the brain (the sensorimotor cortex) that controls voluntary muscle movement. Under normal conditions, discrete body parts (such as the individual fingers) occupy their own distinct areas on our sensorimotor cortex “maps”. However, in dystonia these maps cease to be distinct.
By understanding the abnormal somatosensory physiology underlying the condition, Dr. Nelson hopes to develop rehabilitative regimes for FHD and other neurological disorders that modify brain activity and ameliorate symptoms.