Distinguished Science of Learning Fellow
Amanda Therrien, Ph.D., is a Distinguished Science of Learning Fellow with the Kennedy Krieger Institute and the Department of Neuroscience with the School of Medicine. She received her doctoral degree in Kinesiology with a specialization in Sensorimotor Neuroscience from McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario) in 2013. With her postdoctoral work, Amanda is studying whether novel rehabilitation techniques can be developed to help individuals with cerebellar ataxia.
Cerebellar ataxia is a condition that results from damage to a part of the brain called the cerebellum. It causes several motor impairments, such as poorly coordinated movement and difficulties with balance, walking and speech. The cerebellum has long been known to be important for a form of error-based motor learning called adaption, which cerebellar damage impairs. Many current rehabilitation techniques are based on adaptive learning mechanisms and this is thought to contribute to the difficulties associated with rehabilitating the motor symptoms of ataxia.
Amanda's previous work has shown that another learning mechanism, called reinforcement learning, is intact in patients with cerebellar ataxia. Now her research aims to determine whether reinforcement learning can be harnessed to improve current rehabilitation techniques and help patients improve their movements.