Erin Edwards grew up as a prolific athlete with a passion for sport and physical activity. It wasn’t until her grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s that she started thinking about the science behind exercise and the brain.
“I became interested in how exercise demonstrates many compelling links to improving the quality of life for people with neurological disorders,” said the fifth-year doctoral student at Wayne State University School of Medicine. “A lot of things were in development, but there was still so much that was unknown.”
Wanting to learn more, she studied neuroscience as an undergraduate at the University of New England where she raced across the country for the NCAA.
The knowledge she acquired during her early years in higher education turned into research questions. She enrolled in the Translational Neuroscience program in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience to find the answers and chose to work with Nora Fritz, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology and director of the Neuroimaging and Neurorehabilitation Laboratory for explore the links between movement, thought and the brain. Dr. Fritz is also an Associate Professor of Physical Therapy in the Department of Health Sciences at Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
“We are leveraging this knowledge to improve targeted rehabilitation therapies aimed at improving both clinically observable function and underlying brain pathology in people with multiple sclerosis and other neurodegenerative diseases,” Edwards said. , who will present her thesis on March 4 and is expected to graduate this semester.
Edwards, in particular, is studying backward walking as a new biomarker of fall risk, cognitive decline, and underlying brain damage in people with MS. Dr. Fritz had previously examined how reversing detects the risk of falling in older people. Together, they determined that reverse walking retained the same effectiveness in detecting falls in people with MS, she said, but why it works so well as a detection method remains unknown.
“Dr. Fritz and I realized that if we could target the underlying factors that determine the effectiveness of backing up in detecting falls,” Edwards said, “we could likely identify other promising neural targets for fall risk detection and develop individualized rehabilitation therapies to reduce disease progression and improve quality of life for people with MS.
During Edwards’ time as a PhD student in the lab, she assisted in the development and execution of clinical trials investigating the impact of physical activity on the MS community in Detroit.
“Watching our research participants dramatically improve their movement, thinking, confidence and overall quality of life has truly been inspiring.”
Edwards won first place with this research in the 3MT 2021 at the Graduate Research Symposium for his presentation “Reverse Walking as a Novel Marker of Fall Risk in Multiple Sclerosis”.
The Fritz lab is conducting a clinical trial that Edwards says is yielding excellent observable results.
“Hearing, ‘I feel like I don’t even have MS anymore!’ of a participant leaves your heart full and your motivation to continue even higher,” she said.
Yet there is still much to learn about backing up and its use as an assessment and exercise tool in general when it comes to improving neurological conditions, she said.
These are questions she wants to explore once she graduates and takes up a Medical Science Liaison, or MSL, position in MS therapy practice.
“MSLs are the pipeline between research development and clinical application, and I really look forward to being part of a team that is so passionate about the patients we care about so much,” she said. declared.