Foundation Alumna Aims to Improve Movement for Kids with Cerebral Palsy with Support of $2.5 Million NIH Grant

Categories: Researchers

In 2002, the Foundation for Physical Therapy awarded the Mary McMillan Doctoral Scholarship to Noelle G. Moreau, PT, PhD. Moreau wanted to study a specialized area of biomechanics – gait analysis, or the analysis of human walking. At the time, using 3D motion capture, force plates, and electromyography for human movement analysis was not common in physical therapy practice or research. However, Moreau saw the possibilities it held for strengthening the profession. At the time of her application, Moreau stated that her objective behind pursuing this research was to “merge the field of physical therapy with the technological advances of movement analysis to provide evidence-based practice and diagnostics. The driving force behind physical therapy is evidence-based practice. This means providing proof that what we do as physical therapists has an impact on our patients.”

“Receiving funding from the Foundation for Physical Therapy early in my career was instrumental in jump starting my research career and also helped to prepare me for future funding opportunities.”

Today, Moreau is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at Louisiana State University’s School of Allied Health Professions. Moreau states that “a passion grew inside of me” while working with children with cerebral palsy at the Motion Analysis Laboratory at Shriners Hospitals for Children. Moreau has dedicated her research career to the investigation of the neuromuscular mechanisms underlying movement impairments and abnormal muscle function in children and adolescents with cerebral palsy. “My overarching goal is the development of effective rehabilitation strategies to address these impairments and improve activity, participation, and quality of life.”

Most recently, Moreau was awarded a $2.5 million R01 grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to improve the ability of children with cerebral palsy to walk using an innovative approach. She plans to investigate the effects of a novel, high intensity power training program on functional walking capacity, neuromuscular function, and community-based activity and participation in this population. Power Training combined with Interval Treadmill Training (PT3) targets muscle power deficits specifically in order to drive changes in walking activity for children with cerebral palsy. She notes in a press release issued by her institution that “Current rehabilitation practice uses motor learning principles related to specificity of practice, or task-specific training, for improving walking in those with neurological disorders, such as cerebral palsy. This traditional singular approach fails to address the underlying muscular mechanisms responsible for the walking limitations and has not been shown to be more effective than other therapies in people with spinal cord injury, stroke, and cerebral palsy.” According to Moreau, PT3 will address muscle power, a key ingredient that is missing from current clinical practice for children with cerebral palsy, and combine it in a package of care with a task-specific training protocol that allows the participants to practice using muscle power generation during the functional task of walking.

Moreau is currently in the process of enrolling participants for her research.

Moreau received her Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Therapy in 1996 and in 2007 completed her PhD in Biomechanics from Louisiana State University. Moreau completed a postdoctoral fellowship in movement sciences at Washington University in St. Louis in 2008.