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Oilers Community Foundation backs work on improving speech of children with cerebral palsy

November 21, 2006

Source: University of Alberta

The Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation today awarded the largest single grant in its history to support the work of a University of Alberta speech pathologist who is attempting to improve speech skills of children with cerebral palsy (CP) or in children who have experienced a traumatic brain injury early in life.

The $135,000 gift will be used by Dr. Carol Boliek, of the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, to renovate and equip her pediatric speech physiology laboratory in Corbett Hall, allowing her to intensify her work on understanding and improving how children with cerebral palsy and pediatric traumatic brain injuries learn to talk.

"We've learned about the ways in which normal kids learn how to speak," explains Dr. Boliek. "Now, we want to take that information and design intensive, early-intervention strategies to 'rewire' the brains of children who have experienced traumatic brain injuries early in life or in children who have cerebral palsy.

"Our hope is that our research will lead to effective interventions that can start within the first few years of life, when the nervous system is flexible and able to change," she explains-well before pre-school or kindergarten when therapies for speech problems are typically implemented.

Cerebral Palsy Association in Alberta chair Todd Maki said brain injuries are permanent. "While they are not 'curable' in the accepted definition of the term, training and therapy can help significantly-and that's why Dr. Boliek's work is so important."

Any injury to the developing brain of a fetus may cause CP. In these cases, the damage to the brain is in the regions that control motor activities such as walking and talking. Most often the damage to the brain occurs during pregnancy, at childbirth or shortly after birth. Depending on which areas of the brain have been damaged, one or more of the following may occur: muscle tightness or spasm, involuntary movement, disturbance in gait and mobility; abnormal sensation and perception; impairment of sight, hearing or speech; seizures; and mental retardation.

After a decade of studying the natural course of speech development in children with CP, Dr. Boliek is now applying different treatment approaches to improve oral communication in these children. She's particularly intrigued with intensive therapies used in people with Parkinson's Disease, which have been shown to make permanent changes in the brain and improve speech. She's working with Biomedical Engineering associate professor Dr. Christian Beaulieu, who has been capturing MRI images of typically developing children. Using special images, actual fibre tracts within the brain can be visualized and measured. The technique offers a powerful way to examine anatomical changes in fibre tract development as children mature. Drs. Boliek, Beaulieu, and Jonathan Norton have recently been awarded a Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation research grant to apply this brain imaging technique to children with CP who are undergoing a series of intensive voice treatments. MRI techniques along with other measurements of muscle activations patterns, respiratory behaviors, and speech will document not only therapeutic changes as a result of treatment, but also changes in the central and peripheral nervous system.

Dr. Boliek estimates that there are about 500 children in Northern Alberta who have mild, moderate or severe cerebral palsy and about 1,500 children who have mild, moderate or severe traumatic brain injuries.

"Supporting this research is a perfect fit for us," says Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation chair Doug Goss. "We are pleased to continue our legacy of community leadership and giving back by providing the opportunity for Dr. Boliek to build on her work in this vital area. Her research has the potential to change the lives of thousands of children in Northern Alberta."

"We're pleased and thankful that the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation is supporting Dr. Boliek's cerebral palsy research," says University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera. "The team's longstanding relationship with both the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine and the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation is a leading example of our pursuit to foster strong partnerships with community and business organizations and to advance mutual goals for supporting talented people."

About Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation:

Established in 2001, the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation continues the Oilers legacy by directing its unique resources to charitable organizations across Northern Alberta. The Foundation directs its giving to organizations who focus their activities on educational initiatives, health and wellness and youth programs. The Foundation raises its funds through the generous contributions of Oilers fans and friends and through a variety of fundraising initiatives that take place during Oilers home games.

About the University of Alberta:

Founded in 1908, the University of Alberta in Edmonton is one of Canada's premier teaching and research universities. With more than 200,000 alumni worldwide, the University of Alberta currently serves some 36,000 students with 11,000 faculty and staff. The Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine has a long association with the hockey team, providing expert medical care and rehabilitation therapy for members of the team. Dr. David Magee, professor and associate dean for professional programs and teaching, has been consulting physical therapist to the team for the past 17 years, and Dr. David Reid, an adjunct professor in the Faculty, has been surgeon to the team for many years.

For more information, please contact:
Michael Robb, Manager, Campaign Communications, University of Alberta

Darryl Lindenbach, Executive Director, Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation



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