Dr. Yang is interested in how the nervous system controls movements in general, and walking in particular. Specific topics include:
1) The neural control walking in humans, and how that control changes after injury to the central nervous system.
2) How can we optimize the retrain of walking in adults with spinal cord injury and young children with perinatal brain injury?
3) How do children learn walking related tasks, and how is that different from adults?
Early, intensive motor training in children with perinatal brain injury
Children who suffer injury to the brain before or around the time of birth live with the deficits of this injury for a life time. Yang is interested in whether early, intensive motor training might reduce these deficits. The work is based on animal studies that show there is a critical period early in life, in which activity/training is most effective. A two-centre, randomized controlled trial is currently underway in Edmonton and Calgary to test this idea.
Learning new walking patterns in young children
Infants can step on a split-belt treadmill with the 2 belts running at different speeds or different directions well before they develop independent walking. Like adults, the infants learn to walk more symmetrically on the split-belts over time. Yang is interested in when this learning first appears, and how it develops in early childhood.
Neural mechanisms underlying the retraining of walking in adults with spinal cord injury
Different types of training methods induce different types of neuroplasticity (i.e., changes in the nervous system). Yang and her collaborators are currently studying how training with powered exoskeletons, such as the ReWalk and Ekso, changes the nervous system and improves function.