New study aims to improve walking in children with cerebral palsy

Noelle Moreau, Ph.D., PT, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy at LSU Health New Orleans School of Allied Health Professions, and Kristie Bjornson, PT, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Seattle Children's Research Institute, are the co-principal investigators of a $2.7 million grant to study an innovative training method to improve walking in children with cerebral palsy (CP). The five-year grant was awarded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers, at LSU Health New Orleans and Seattle Children's Research Institute, will compare short bursts of vigorous intensity locomotor treadmill training to traditional locomotor treadmill training. Children with CP are at greater risk for inactivity and functional decline with age. Children's physical activity patterns are very different from adult patterns, yet the current locomotor treadmill training protocols designed to improve walking in children with CP simulate adult protocols.

Children with cerebral palsy walk primarily at lower-intensity stride rates with less variability, which limits their walking activity and ability to participate in daily life. Typically developing children engage in short bursts of intense physical activity interspersed with varying levels of low-intensity activity throughout the day. We want to determine if the short-burst interval training will optimize motor learning resulting in improved walking capacity, mobility and performance for these children."

Noelle Moreau, Ph.D., PT, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy, LSU Health New Orleans School of Allied Health Professions

The study will determine the immediate and retention effects of short bursts of vigorous-intensity locomotor treadmill training in ambulatory children with CP on walking capacity, including community-based walking activity performance. It will determine whether the effects of short bursts of vigorous-intensity locomotor treadmill training on walking capacity and performance are brought about by improved muscle power generation. A unique aspect of the study is that the intervention will be delivered daily, five days per week, in the home setting by trained interventionists.

"We want to make participation in the study as convenient as possible for the children and their families," adds Moreau.

The study will enroll children with CP between the ages of 6 and 10 for a total of 72 participants, 36 at each site. For more information about the trial, visit https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04026295.

"This research is significant because it will be the first step in a continuum of research that is expected to direct locomotor training protocols and rehab strategies across pediatric disabilities and positively effect changes in community-based walking activity and performance for children with CP," says Moreau.

Moreau expects to begin enrolling participants in the study at LSU Health in February 2020. For more information, contact her at 504 568-4291 or [email protected]

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