Investigating the effectiveness of surgery to improve walking
Many children with symptoms of cerebral palsy in both legs will undergo a type of surgery called ‘Single Event Multi-Level Surgery’ (SEMLS) which aims to correct their muscle, bone and joint deformities. But it is unclear how effective this operation is, and which children benefit the most. Mr Tim Theologis and his team at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are carrying out a national study of SEMLS. He hopes his results will ensure that children receive the best treatment to improve their walking, helping them to live as normal and independent a life as possible.
“Our results will help surgeons to improve how SEMLS is performed and select the best type of surgery and rehabilitation for individual children,” says Mr Theologis. “In the longer term, this project will guide future research to help children with cerebral palsy get the best possible treatment.”
Does it benefit children to stand up and exercise during lessons?
Professor Helen Dawes, of Oxford Brookes University, is investigating the potential benefits of a classroom-based exercise programme for children with cerebral palsy. Hopes are high, as young people who are more active tend to have better health and greater academic success – effects that last into adulthood and boost life chances.
“In theory, it’s possible that scheduling regular breaks in the school day for physical activity sessions could have wide-ranging benefits, improving children’s academic performance, strength, mobility and their overall health and wellbeing,” says Professor Dawes. This pilot study is an important first step towards finding out whether what’s true in theory is also true in practice.
Developing a new technology-based approach for hand and arm rehabilitation
A common type is called hemiplegic cerebral palsy, which affects one side of a child’s body. A lack of use of their affected arm and hand can lead to irreversible weakness in adulthood. Dr Anna Basu at Newcastle University is investigating if a new approach involving a wrist-worn device and smartphone application can help boost the movement of a child’s affected limb during everyday activities. If successful, it could lead to a cheap and effective new way to help improve their chances of living a fully independent adult life.
Reducing hip pain
Many children with cerebral palsy have problems with their hips during childhood. Some get so bad that their hips become dislocated which often causes pain and makes it hard for children to stand, walk or even sit comfortably.
Funded by Action, Dr Adam Shortland, of Guy’s Hospital, London, is developing a new way to screen for these hip problems, using 3D ultrasound scans. Successful screening means children who have early signs of hip problems can be offered prompt treatment, with the aim of sparing children from more severe problems and the pain and disability they can cause.
Repairing brain damage
The symptoms of cerebral palsy result from damage to areas of the brain that control movement. Although treatments help children with cerebral palsy, currently there is no way to repair the brain damage. Dr Veronique Miron, of the University of Edinburgh, is searching for ways to repair the brain damage that causes children’s symptoms.
Her ultimate goal is to develop treatments that stimulate natural healing processes. She hopes such treatments will one day give children with cerebral palsy greater control of their movement and improve their lives.
Using technology to predict children's needs
An Action funded team at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, led by Dr Chris Clark, is investigating whether new MRI brain scans might benefit children with cerebral palsy. “The movement problems that children with cerebral palsy experience result from damage to the brain,” explains Dr Clark. “We are using new MRI scans developed by the team to find out more about this damage and how it relates to children’s movement difficulties."
The researchers hope doctors will be able to use these new brain scans to help them predict what sort of movement difficulties children with cerebral palsy are likely to experience in the future. This could help parents know more about what the future will hold and make it easier to plan children’s care.