Scientists who devote their lives to helping people with Parkinson’s and do it with great success are very inspiring to us. Samuel Stuart is one of those scientists, and it is with great honor that we can say Dr. Stuart will be collaborating with the Walk With Path team, to include Path Finder in his current study on visual cueing.
Vice Chancellor & Senior Research Fellow at Northumbria University in the UK, Honorary Clinical Physiotherapist at Northumbria Healthcare NHS trust, Director of the Physiotherapy Innovation Laboratory (PI Lab), and Previous Parkinson's Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Oregon Health and Science University in the USA, Samuel Stuart has been published a great number of times, and has carried out multiple projects.
One of his most impactful publications was Gait in Parkinson's disease: A visuo-cognitive challenge, published in 2016. The study looked at visual function during Gait in Parkinson’s disease, as well as the impact of cognition and response to visual cues. His most recent project studied the brain’s activity response to cues for gait impairment in Parkinson’s disease, with the goal of investigating brain activity response to cues when walking in PD. His many awards and grants made him what he is today, an amazing influence in the world of scientific research.
Our team asked Dr. Stuart questions about himself, Parkinson’s Disease, visual cueing and about the impact of technology on the development of Parkinson’s disease treatment.
Interview with Dr. Samuel Stuart
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about you and your background?
A: I am a clinical-academic physiotherapist and currently a Senior Research Fellow at Northumbria University, where I direct the Physiotherapy Innovation Laboratory (PI Lab). I completed my NIHR biomedical research unit funded PhD in neuroscience at Newcastle University in 2016, where I examined the roles of vision and cognition in walking and response to visual cues in Parkinson’s. I moved to Oregon Health & Science University (USA) in 2017 for a postdoctoral fellow position, where I obtained a Parkinson’s Foundation postdoctoral fellowship for basic scientists in 2018.
My fellowship was the first study to examine brain activity while walking without and with visual cues in people with Parkinson’s who did and did not experience freezing of gait. I returned home to the North East of England at the end of 2019, where I began my own laboratory at Northumbria University and obtained a Parkinson’s Foundation Clinical Research Award to examine how comprehensive recordings of brain activity respond to various cueing modalities, such as auditory, visual and tactile cues for gait impairment in Parkinson’s.
Q: What inspired you to follow a neuroscience research path?
A: As a physiotherapist, following a research career and doing your own research is challenging due to the limited support, clinical-academic pathways and funding - especially in comparison to our medical or basic science colleagues. However, I always wanted to develop my knowledge and career, as well as my own line of research that could help answer important clinical questions, in a ‘Lab to Life’ translational approach. I was particularly interested in neuroscience as the human brain is one of the most complex structures, and we know so little about it. This inspired me to carry out a PhD in neuroscience, as there are still so many unanswered questions, puzzles and problems.
Q: What are you aiming to achieve as a neuroscientist? What is your biggest research goal?
A: The aim of my research is to improve mobility and reduce the risk of falls in people with Parkinson’s disease. This can be done through understanding the contribution of sensory and cognitive function to gait. The biggest research goal I have is to understand why cueing modalities work to improve gait in Parkinson’s, so we can develop more effective and targeted interventions.
Q: What impact does freezing of gait have in the life of a person affected by Parkinson's?
A: Freezing of gait is a particularly problematic symptom of Parkinson’s. It can have a big impact on a person’s ability to carry out their usual activities, which in turn leads to a lack of independence and reduced quality of life. Most importantly, freezing of gait is associated with an increased risk of falls in people with Parkinson’s, which is associated with greater mortality rates. Therefore, intervention for this symptom is paramount.
Q: According to your research, what are the benefits of using visual cueing in Parkinson’s disease?
A: I have studied the use of visual cues for gait impairment in Parkinson’s for 8 years on various projects. There are a range of benefits, that include: improvement in walking (such as longer step length and reduced freezing episodes), greater visual exploration of the environment when walking, and changes in brain activity when walking in regions associated with sensory function.
Q: What is the impact of technology on the development of Parkinson’s disease treatment?
A: Current assessment and treatment of Parkinson’s is conducted by clinicians. However, this typically involves a ‘snap-shot’ visit and relies heavily on clinical expertise. The advancement of modern technology will allow for development of more comprehensive data-driven objective assessments of Parkinson’s symptoms, as well as individualised or continuous intervention for particular problems, such as mobility impairment. Technology will provide the key to unlocking more effective treatment of Parkinson’s, with the ability for patients and clinicians to work together to ensure personalised healthcare.