Rehabilitation graduate student Kathryn Lambert receives Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship

Prestigious award recognizes her research into understanding how neurological disease affects imagined movement.

12 September 2023

Kathryn Lambert, a third-year PhD candidate in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, has been named as a recipient of the Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship. This prestigious scholarship, which is given in recognition of exceptional performance in a doctoral program, will support her research on the effects of Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder affecting how the brain controls movement. 

This research is the next step on a journey that began for Lambert when she was a University of Alberta undergraduate psychology student. She recently shared her insights on what led her to begin investigating the link between real and imagined movement, and the potential treatments her research could offer to those living with the disease.

What does your research focus on?  

The focus of my research is understanding how Parkinson’s disease affects the ability of those with the disease to imagine their own movements. We already know that Parkinson’s affects the ability to physically execute movements, but we want to investigate if the disease also affects the mental execution of movements. 

How did you become interested in this? 

As an undergraduate student, I studied motor imagery — the imagination of movements — in Dr. Anthony Singhal’s lab and learned it was being used more often in a rehabilitation context.

A member of my extended family had Parkinson’s, so I was familiar with the disease and its impact. I became curious about how Parkinson’s affects motor imagery, and how motor imagery might be used in the future as a tool to treat the disease. 

What does your research involve?

My research primarily involves people with Parkinson’s completing a variety of assessments of their motor and cognitive function. Following those assessments, I’ll have the same people complete tests that involve imagining movement — a process that taps into our mental representations of movement. In future, my work will involve recording brain activity while participants imagine movements to see if the process differs between people with Parkinson’s and healthy older adults on a neurophysiological level.

What is the potential impact of your research in the coming years?

There are a couple of areas for potential impact. First, it will provide better insight into how Parkinson’s affects movement. Treatment may look different if the disease affects not only how the individual executes a movement, but also how that individual conceptualizes and plans out movements, because these two processes overlap with motor imagery. Motor imagery is increasingly being considered as a treatment for various conditions, but the benefits of it as a treatment may depend on the individual’s ability to accurately imagine the target movement. With this research, we might be able to identify if particular symptoms accompanying Parkinson’s will affect the ability to participate in motor imagery.

How will this scholarship benefit your research?

I like asking questions, and I’m always looking to learn something new. I think both of those traits go hand in hand with research. Receiving this award means I’ll have more time to dedicate to my research project, which means a lot. For a PhD student like me, it’s an immense privilege to be able to dedicate my time to something that I’m so passionate about.

What do you really want people to know and understand about your work?

I think people might wonder what imagining movements has to do with actual movement. My answer, in brief, is: a lot!