This application for a Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K01) is designed to advance knowledge important for lessening the expression of functional disability in children with CP and support the career of Dr. Danielle Levac, BSc.PT, MSc, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, Movement and Rehabilitation Science at Northeastern University. Dr. Levac directs the Rehabilitation Games and Virtual Reality Lab where the proposed research will take place. Dr. Levac?s proposed research is based on her experience evaluating how typically developing children and children with cerebral palsy (CP), the most common cause of pediatric disability, acquire new skills through interaction with motion-controlled virtual reality games displayed in two-dimensional (2D), flat-screen virtual environments. This common approach to rehabilitation suffers from poor transfer of skill improvement to real world situations. Dr.
Levac aims to investigate the mechanisms underlying this major treatment drawback by exploring whether virtual environments that promote adaptive variability in movement patterns in children with CP will enhance transfer to a real-life skill. Her preliminary studies provide evidence for this hypothesis. To explore these questions, she will first identify whether the amount of adaptive variability during skill acquisition is important for transfer success in children with CP (Specific Aim 1). Next, she will compare performance variability and transfer between 2D virtual environments and a novel 3D head-mounted display (HMD) environment (Specific Aim 2) to understand differential effects on movement variability and its relationship to skill acquisition and transfer to a real life task. Children?s performance and outcomes will be measured using motion capture methods. Dr. Levac has a clinical research background and will seek mentored training and skill development to enhance her knowledge about specific sensorimotor impairments in children with CP and their treatment, gain skills in motion capture methodology and statistical variability modeling, and support her continued fluency with virtual reality hardware and software given the predicted rapid developments in this field. She will accomplish these goals through a combination of formal coursework, mentored skill development, and the empirical research described above. Dr. Levac has recruited an interdisciplinary mentor and advisory committee to guide her in these research and training activities. This committee has senior-level expertise in sensorimotor control and learning in children with CP, motion capture methodology and data processing, statistical variability modeling and analysis , and virtual environment task design and interface technology. They are eminently qualified and fully committed to assisting Dr. Levac to further her training, research and career path and achieve her career objectives. With this training, Dr. Levac is poised to become a leading researcher in the ever-changing field of virtual environments for pediatric rehabilitation, producing research that is directly translatable to clinical practice and that enhances functional outcomes for children with CP and other neuromotor impairments.
Rehabilitation for children with cerebral palsy (CP), the most common cause of pediatric disability and a significant public health burden, often involves motion-controlled games in virtual environments, but this approach suffers from poor transfer of skill improvement to real world situations. The proposed research aims to identify the mechanisms underlying this major treatment drawback by exploring whether virtual environments that promote adaptive variability in movement patterns in children with CP will enhance transfer to a real-life skill. This will provide beneficial insights into the mechanisms underlying skill improvement and transfer in virtual environments for children with atypical development, which will enhance children?s physical well-being and inform future interventions aiming to prevent and reduce the burden of cerebral palsy using virtual reality-based interventions.