ASU Student Gets National Grant to Develop New Therapy for Children with Cerebral Palsy

ASU Student Gets National Grant to Develop New Therapy for Children with Cerebral Palsy

December 8, 2005

December 7, 2005

Joe Caspermeyer, Media Relations Manager & Science Editor
(480) 727-0369 |


Researcher is the First Recipient from the Biodesign Institute to Receive this Type of Award

TEMPE, Ariz. – Andrea Downing dreams of developing therapies to help children with cerebral palsy. Now, she has $90,000 to kick those dreams into overdrive. Downing, a graduate student at Arizona State University, was recently announced as a recipient of the Ruth Kirschstein Pre-Doctoral Fellowship Grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

“It is so rewarding to have this opportunity to do something so meaningful,” said Downing. “While you always hope your contributions as a student researcher are helpful to the team, I’m proud that I’m now able to bring funding to the effort.”

Downing has maintained a 4.0 grade point average in her studies in the Harrington Department of Bioengineering at the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering. She is also the first researcher at the Biodesign Institute to receive this individually funded, national grant. She will carry out her research under the guidance of bioengineering professor James Abbas, co-director of the Center for Rehabilitation Neuroscience and Rehabilitation Engineering at the Biodesign Institute.

Downing is also a part of ASU’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program in Neural and Musculoskeletal Adaptations in Form and Function, a program funded by the National Science Foundation to prepare scientists for more multidisciplinary, emerging new career opportunities.

Downing’s research project is aimed at developing practical and effective therapeutic interventions to improve the motor skills of children with cerebral palsy (CP). According to the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities, there are more than 500,000 Americans living with CP. The disease is an umbrella term used to describe a series of chronic disorders that impair control of movement, usually resulting from an injury to an immature brain. This limits a child's ability to explore their environment, which in turn hinders intellectual and social stimulation —having significant implications for the child's educational development, independence and quality of life.

She explained that because CP is a lesion of the central nervous system that occurs at birth or in the early stages of life, there is an urgent need for her research to help children and maximize the development of their coordination skills.

Downing also noted that muscle weakness in children with CP is typically measured by having the child push their hardest in a specific direction. Yet most activities of daily living don’t involve such maximum effort. She wondered if such measures are the most accurate indicators of a child’s true abilities.

Her research seeks to improve methods to control muscle force in the lower body with a particular focus on muscle inflection, timing and coordination. From this, she will develop and evaluate a new training protocol designed to target the specific aspects of muscle control. Her research is funded through August 2008.

The Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award is a research training grant awarded to develop or enhance research training opportunities for individuals interested in careers in biomedical, behavioral and clinical research.

The Biodesign Institute at ASU integrates diverse fields of science to cure and prevent disease, overcome the limitations of injury, renew the environment and improve national security. For information, visit or call (480) 727-8322.

The Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering provides a transformative educational experience for engineering, computer science and construction students, giving them the knowledge and skills they need for success in a technically oriented career. The school also engages in use-inspired research in a multidisciplinary setting, creating knowledge for the benefit of individuals, society and the environment. For information, visit


Written by: Joe Caspermeyer