Personal History:Dr. Whitall graduated from the University of Keele, United Kingdom with a bachelor’s degree in Education and Physical Education with a certification to teach Biology and Physical Education. After teaching high school for several years she earned a masters degree in Comparative Education at the University of London and subsequently a Ph.D. in Motor Development and Learning at the University of Maryland, College Park. Although Dr. Whitall’s original interest was in teaching future physical education teachers, she soon learned that research into how children and adults developed and controlled interlimb motor skills was her true passion. Dr. Whitall’s first position was in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Subsequently she joined the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science in 1994 and became focused on two areas of research: designing and investigating novel therapeutic interventions to help older individuals with stroke to regain their motor skills and understanding why some children had movement problems without any obvious medical cause (a condition known as developmental coordination disorder). For over 25 years Dr. Whitall has mentored undergraduate and graduate students. She has also mentored post-doctoral fellows and junior faculty in research. Dr. Whitall has served as a primary and/or secondary mentor to 12 Ph.D and 11 Masters students.
Research Interests:Past support has included several NIH and a NIDRR grant. Work in Dr. Whitall’s lab is currently supported through an NIH R03 and a MIPS grant.
Dr. Whitall’s primary research area is to investigate novel interventions in both UE and LE paradigms with the goal of understanding the mechanisms of recovery and learning how to optimize the interventions across different levels of impairment. For example, Dr. Whitall and collaborators have found that a novel bilateral arm training program with rhythmic auditory cueing (BATRAC) will improve impairments, function and disability for some subjects and that these functional changes correlate with changes in brain activation, particularly in the contralesional hemisphere, seen through fMRI scanning. This work involves collaborations with investigators in University of Maryland Baltimore (UMB), Johns Hopkins University and University of Zurich.
A secondary research area builds on earlier work on the development of motor coordination in children. This focus concerns the identification of children with developmental coordination disorder and the investigation of underlying mechanisms related to sensorimotor coupling. In collaboration with investigators at University of Maryland College Park, it was determined that these children have specific deficits in auditory-motor, visual-motor and tactile-motor coupling that may provide avenues for intervention.
Finally, a new area of interest is the functional status of older people in relation to their environment and Dr. Whitall has a potential project beginning soon in that area.
Lab Techniques and Equipment:Dr. Whitall co-directs a lab called the Sensorimotor Development and Rehabilitation Lab (SIMDAR Lab). This “virtual” lab is located in four separate rooms and shares space with other researchers. Two rooms house training stations for upper extremity and lower extremity training. Two other rooms house equipment for assessing motor and neurophysiological function. The main equipment items available are: Separate 3D motion analysis systems for gait, arm reaching and finger tapping; a gait mat for assessing spatial temporal parameters; a Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation system for single and paired pulse protocols to assess corticospinal excitability; an instrumented treadmill, space to test and assess children or adults for neurological, cognitive and movement deficits using standardized tests. There is also an isolated area to interview patients or parents. Offsite resources include MRI scanning at Johns Hopkins University and UMB as well as onsite extensive resources of the Baltimore Claude D. Pepper Independence for Older Americans Center and the VA Maryland Exercise and Robotics Center of Excellence.
Additional SIMDAR Personnel:
SIMDAR Co-Director: Sandy McCombe Waller, PT, PhD, NCS
Research Trainers: Toye Jenkins, MPT; Annette Fowler, PT
Research Assistant: Andrea Gaeta, BS
Graduate Students: Renuka Roche, OT, MS
Grants & Contracts:
MIPS Phase I project
Maryland Industrial Partnerships
Further Development and Testing of the TREADTRAC
The goal of this study is to continue the development and pilot of a prototype device for recording footstep data and interfacing with giving auditory cues for walking in the populations of stroke and Parkinson’s disease.
Treadmill training with rhythmic auditory cueing in older adults with chronic stroke
The goal of this study is to test whether 6 weeks treadmill followed by 6 weeks overground training with auditory cues is better at increasing velocity and symmetry than the same protocol without cues.
Links of Interest:Publications
Research in the Department of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Science
University of Maryland Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center
Maryland Exercise and Robotics Center of Excellence (MERCE)
Joint project with University of Maryland, College Park
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