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Giving hope

Federal funding allows researchers to pursue critical studies with MS patients

By Jeff Green

Dr. Michelle Ploughman smiles proudly when she talks about her motivation as a physiotherapist and neuroscientist.

“We’re here to give hope, really,” she said during a recent visit to her Recovery and Performance Laboratory in the L.A. Miller Centre in St. John’s.

As Canada Research Chair in Rehabilitation, Neuroplasticity and Brain Recovery in the Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Ploughman (M.Sc.’03, PhD’07) says improving patient care is at the heart of everything she does, including ongoing research involving people living with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Dr. Ploughman and her team have secured a $719,100 grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to help answer the question: Can exercise help heal the brain and protect it from degeneration?

“We already know that exercise reduces risk of heart disease and cancer and helps maintain cognitive capacity as we age,” she explained.

“It is possible that exercise can help protect the brain against degeneration. This could be important for people who live with diseases like Parkinson’s, dementia or MS.”

“I am motivated to prepare the next generation of scientists," says Dr. Michelle Ploughman.
“I am motivated to prepare the next generation of scientists,” says Dr. Michelle Ploughman.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

As part of a new five-year study, Dr. Ploughman and her collaborators will gather critical measurements of physical and cognitive health in patients, as well as study brain function and inflammation in order to track the effects of fitness on brain health over time in people with MS in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Dr. Ploughman’s co-applicants on the CIHR grant are Dr. Craig Moore, Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience and Brain Repair, and Dr. Zhiwei Gao, assistant professor of clinical epidemiology, from the Faculty of Medicine.

“This funding will allow us to grow the project so more people can benefit,” Dr. Ploughman noted. “We will answer our research questions while at the same time helping people with MS chart their own course towards improving their health.”

“Canada has one of the highest rates of MS in the world.” — Dr. Michelle Ploughman

CIHR’s funding is vital, she points out, because of the prevalence of MS in Canada.

She says it is important to appreciate that MS is “Canada’s disease.”

“Canada has one of the highest rates of MS in the world. I have many friends and colleagues with MS and most people know someone with MS. MS affects people between the ages of 20 and 40 in the critical career and family-building years.”

Creating opportunities

In addition to leading valuable health-related studies, Dr. Ploughman says Memorial researchers also play an important role in helping enhance the provincial economy, by way of new jobs, training opportunities and new talent coming to Newfoundland and Labrador.

“We will hire two new scientific staff and have already recruited a new PhD student who will be coming to Newfoundland and Labrador with her family. The project creates an opportunity to train the next generation of scientists who will go to battle against MS. I am motivated to prepare the next generation of scientists to advance the field of neuroscience and improve the care patients receive.”

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