Neuromuscular Plasticity Symposium brings top scientists to campus for networking, research collaborations

Neuromuscular Plasticity_MBF_IMG_5686_LRResearchers and students gathered at the University of Florida March 15 to discuss the latest rehabilitation research in neuromuscular plasticity.

The Annual Neuromuscular Plasticity Symposium, now in its eighth year, is organized under the auspices of UF’s Neuromuscular Plasticity Training Program, funded by a T32 training grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The pre-doctoral training program emphasizes the joint training of rehabilitation clinicians and basic scientists who have a common interest in translational research in neuromuscular plasticity. Neuromuscular plasticity refers to the ability of the brain, nervous system and muscles to adopt new functions or reorganize existing ones in response to injury, illness or aging.

The training program’s faculty mentors include researchers in the UF colleges of Public Health and Health Professions, Health and Human Performance, Medicine, and Veterinary Medicine. Trainees are conducting research in areas such as spinal cord injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury, impaired respiratory function and muscle dysfunction.

“The goal of the symposium is to help trainees network across campus as well as with prominent scientists across the country and I think it’s been a very effective forum for that,” said Krista Vandenborne, Ph.D., P.T., director of the Neuromuscular Plasticity Training Program and chair of the department of physical therapy at the College of Public Health and Health Professions.

The Neuromuscular Plasticity Symposium includes student poster presentations and keynote lectures by one national expert in each of three research areas: brain, spinal cord and muscle. This year’s symposium featured Daniel Corcos, Ph.D., a professor and director of the Neural Control of Movement Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago; Jerry Silver, Ph.D., a professor of neurosciences at Case Western Reserve University; and James Tidball, Ph.D., a professor of molecular, cellular and integrative physiology at UCLA.

“The symposium provides an opportunity to interact with a variety of accomplished speakers and scholars whose work may be very different from your own,” said Meryl Alapattu, D.P.T., a Neuromuscular Plasticity Training Program trainee. “These interactions leave you thinking about your research in different ways, in particular the translational aspect of your work and the impact of your work on a larger level.”

Symposium highlights also include the five-minute “data blitz” presentations by the Neuromuscular Plasticity Training Program’s trainees, Vandenborne said. The trainees present their research to an audience that includes faculty mentors, visiting scholars and the symposium’s keynote speakers. The presentations are held in the living room of the UF President’s House.

“It’s a very unique opportunity because you have these really famous scientists sitting in the living room with you, right in front of you,” Vandenborne said. “It’s intimidating for the T32 trainees, but at the same time it’s a wonderful experience for them to be able to interact with other scientists in such an intimate forum.”

Over the years these types of interactions have led to several collaborations between UF researchers and the symposium’s invited experts, Vandenborne said.

“All the keynote speakers have been really impressed with what UF has to offer and with the environment that surrounds the Neuromuscular Plasticity Training Program,” she said. “The symposium is a fantastic way to showcase the university and our program.”

Neuromuscular Plasticity Symposium 2013 photos