The Sensorimotor Learning Lab Works to Raise Ataxia Awareness

Amanda Therrien

Ataxia is a disabling neurological condition of impaired movement coordination that can result from damage to a structure in the brain called the cerebellum. Individuals with Ataxia have trouble controlling their balance when standing. They also have difficulty walking, coordinating reaching movements with their arms, speaking, and controlling the movement of their eyes.

MRRI Institute Scientist and Sensorimotor Learning Lab Director, Amanda Therrien, PhD, studies cerebellar Ataxia. Her research uses a combination of behavioral and computational methods to improve our understanding of the neural mechanisms through which the cerebellum contributes to movement control. Dr. Therrien uses this knowledge to develop new movement training techniques aimed at improving rehabilitation for individuals with this disorder.

Cerebellar Ataxia is a component of many neurological disorders – e.g., multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, congenital brain malformations, and paraneoplastic conditions triggered by an abnormal immune system response to cancerous tumors. Dr. Therrien’s work focuses on a host of genetic conditions, called Spinocerebellar Ataxias (SCAs), that cause a progressive degeneration of the cerebellum. While SCAs run in families, sporadic gene mutations can cause other genetic conditions that lead to cerebellar degeneration without a family history. The National Ataxia Foundation estimates that, in the United States alone, 15,000 – 20,000 people have SCAs, and that tens of thousands more are affected by recessive and sporadic forms of Ataxia.

Each year, International Ataxia Awareness Day is observed on September 25th. This week, Dr. Therrien and others at MRRI are proud to continue raising public awareness and support for Ataxia. On Saturday October 1st, Dr. Therrien will represent MRRI at the 2022 Central PA Walk n’ Roll to Cure Ataxia. You can donate to the cause here. You are also invited to join us at 10:00 am on Saturday, October 1st at the Lions Pavilion in Kerr Park, Downingtown, PA to participate in the event! Through Walk n’ Roll events across the country, over $3,000,000 has been raised to support the National Ataxia Foundation’s mission to accelerate the development of treatments and improve the lives of people living with Ataxia.

To get involved or learn more about Ataxia research at MRRI you can follow us on Twitter and Facebook. You can also learn more about Dr. Therrien and the Sensorimotor Learning Laboratory on our website.

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