Clowning around advances cerebral palsy research

23 Nov 2008

 University of Queensland PhD student is creating medical magic under the big top during these school holidays with her research into treatment for children with cerebral palsy.

Paediatric occupational therapist Leanne Sakzewski’s project mixes rehabilitation with circus training and aims to improve treatment of children with cerebral palsy who have had a stroke affecting one side of their body.

Ms Sakzewski said the fun-filled circus activities provided an invaluable drawcard.

“Novelty in therapy is the key to optimising children’s engagement and motivation,” she said.

“There are so many different activities that fall under the circus banner which require upper arm strength, manipulation, movement and coordination. It creates an environment that children want to be in.”

Ms Sakzewski’s doctoral program is part of the INCITE trial, believed to be the first rehabilitation trial in cerebral palsy to be funded by the National Heath and Medial Research Council (NHMRC).

The Royal Children's Hospital and the Smart State Department of Innovation are also major sponsors of the program.

The research focuses on how the intervention program impacts children’s arm and hand skills, and community participation. This is supplemented by looking at brain re-organisation in response to the therapy.

The data collected evaluates upper limb activity performance, participation in home, school and community life and perceived quality of life. It uses advanced brain imaging to study the relationship between brain structure and function.

The findings of the study will be investigated at the Brain Research Institute in Melbourne.

Ms Sakzewski said she intended to compare traditional training with a new approach called Constraint Induced Movement Therapy.

Her method of therapy involves children wearing a glove on their unimpaired hand to optimise training of their impaired hand to determine whether one is more beneficial than the other for improving upper limb function and participation.

Four school holiday programs have already been run successfully in Victoria with children attending from all regions of Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania.

A further two camps will be run with Flipside circus and in collaboration with YMCA Qld at the Brisbane Powerhouse venue from June 23-July 18.

The study investigators and doctoral supervisors, Associate Professor Roslyn Boyd and Associate Professor Jenny Ziviani, are based in the Schools of Medicine and Occupational Therapy in UQ's Faculty of Health Sciences.

Media contact: Leanne Sakzewski (mobile 0417758565) Brooke Hargraves UQ Communications (0448 235 303) Associate Professor Roslyn Boyd (0434 608 443)