Kristie Bjornson, PT, PhD

CP Stories: Researcher and PT Kristie Bjornson

“Physical Therapists need to know the tools to use to help children with CP”Kristie Bjornson, PT, PhD

Family ties and adversity sent physical therapist and well-established researcher Kristie Bjornson on her path to improving strength training for children with cerebral palsy.

Kristie Bjornson was in middle school when her older brother Keith endured a severe spinal cord injury after a diving accident. Helping him ignited her initial passion for physical therapy.

But it was her brother’s wife, Sherry, who has Spastic Diplegia CP, who opened her eyes to the challenges of the CP community.  Bjornson was drawn to learn more, and during her PT training in St. Paul, Minnesota, she began an internship working with children with cerebral palsy. It was the start of a 20-year career working with children with CP.

In 2000, Bjornson decided to go back to graduate school to expand her knowledge further.

“I realized physical therapists didn’t have enough research to know what tools to use in the toolbox to help children with CP,” she told CPRN. “I am a much more evidence-based clinician today. Presently, I have National Institutes for Health funding for three trials exploring varying treatments to help children with CP walk and move about the world easier.”

Bjornson is based at Seattle Children’s Hospital & Research Institute, where she is Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Rehabilitation Medicine, appointed by the University of Washington. She spends one day a week working as a physical therapist, and the other four days are spent on her research projects at the Research Institute.

The goal of her research is to maximize how efficiently a person with CP can walk. Her first project, a two-year study on orthotics, focused on researching the best orthotics and shoe combinations. The second project is a five-year study, a home-based program for elementary school children aged four to six, which is now in its third year.

The study of 72 children involves a standard treadmill being set up in each child’s home with a therapist overseeing forty sessions of treadmill training over eight to ten weeks. The study compares two different types of treadmill exercise: traditional vs. short burst interval.

During the traditional treadmill sessions, children walk at a steady pace for thirty minutes, with speed increasing a little each time. During the short burst interval training, the child walks at a comfortable pace for thirty seconds and then begins alternating with walking faster for thirty-second bursts (fast, slow, fast, slow). Pilot project data shows the latter technique to be more beneficial in helping children with CP walk better.

Total Gym

Bjornson’s third project has just entered its fourth year and features middle grade and high school-aged children and teenagers. The five-year study uses a piece of equipment called a “Total Gym” system.

This study compares strength training with a traditional steady-paced method to power training using the short burst interval method. Pilot data shows the power training combined with short burst interval treadmill training to help this age group walk better.

As her work continues, Bjornson says she would like to see more clinicians use evidence-based practice and a national electronic health record established. She believes these two things would make it easier for researchers to contact people with CP, their parents, or caregivers to improve treatment and research rather than the current model, which the provider controls.

“Doing research with persons with CP is not black and white because no two people present exactly the same way,” she explains. “We’re beginning to chip away at the iceberg we can see above the water.”

As an active member of the CP Research Network, Bjornson says she appreciates how the network has brought persons with CP, parents, and caregivers to the table with providers and researchers for the first time.

“The honestly and resilience of the children and families I get to work with is why I feel so fortunate to do this work,” she adds. “They are just amazing and have taught me so much. They are the reason I chose to pursue my research training after practicing for many years.”

Kristen Allison, PhD, Bhooma Aravamuthan, MD, DPhil, Amanda Whitaker, MD

CPRN Investigators To Detail Important Findings

Three researchers from the Cerebral Palsy (CP) Research Network will present scientific findings at this year’s American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine (AACPDM) annual meeting.  

Kristen Allison, Ph.D., a speech pathologist and researcher at Northeastern University, will present “Speech and Language Predictors of Participation in Children with CP,” research made possible through the CP Research Network’s community registry hosted at MyCP.org.  

Allison’s research stems from parent surveys sharing the speech and language capability of children with CP and insights about their interactions with peers and common communication breakdowns due to speech and language impairments.    

Pediatric movement disorders neurologist Bhooma Aravamuthan, MD, DPhil, was also able to collate data through MyCP.org. She will present her findings on community attitudes toward a CP diagnosis and how a complete explanation of causes of CP can benefit those with the condition and their families.  

A third presentation, powered by efforts within the network, will be led by Amanda Whitaker, MD, an orthopedic surgeon who has been examining practice variation in hip surveillance at centers in the CP Research Network. Her findings are already shaping quality improvement protocols as part of the network’s drive to become a learning health network.   

AACPDM’s 75th annual meeting with take place on October 6 to 9, 2021, at Quebec City Convention Centre in Quebec, Canada.

The CP Research Network remains committed to enabling clinicians to conduct research that advances the care of people with CP via our community registry and learning health network.  

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Jacob Kean, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Utah

Discovery and Improved Health from your Lived Experience

Jacob Kean, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Utah

Jacob Kean, Ph.D., University of Utah

Next Tuesday, April 20, at 8 pm ET, the Cerebral Palsy Research Network will be hosting a MyCP webinar about how innovative technology is advancing CP research. Dr. Jacob Kean, Associate Professor in Health System Innovation and Research at the University of Utah, will be presenting how we can transform healthcare for CP by harnessing information from your lived experiences.  

Dr. Kean will explain how our partnership with Datavant is opening doors to breakthroughs from community participation in MyCP, receiving care at a CP Research Network Center, or by participating in our research.  

Datavant allows us to connect many different sources of information about a person’s health. For example, by connecting information generated by a fitness tracker like a FitBit or a smart phone with our registries, the CP Research Network could find patterns of movement that lead to better cardiovascular health.   

By organizing millions of pieces of information about living with cerebral palsy we are on the path to unique discoveries. These exciting opportunities are possible because our community members are granting permission for us to use their information in ways that takes advantage of new technology trends, while simultaneously maintaining their privacy.  

Tune in by signing up for the webinar and learn how technology and information sharing is allowing us to move CP research into the forefront of scientific advancements.  And if you haven’t already, consider joining MyCP!

New Website Sneak Peak

Here’s a sneak peek at our new website!

Thanks to our merger with CP NOW and new research studies already off the ground, it’s been an exciting year so far for the CP Research Network. So, what’s next? Our new website!   

 Since our January merger, our team has been busy integrating four websites into one to create a new online home – cprn.org – a place where we will bring together our community, research efforts, education, and wellbeing programs.   

Here’s a sneak peek of what’s to come!   

To make things easier to navigate, our one platform, CPRN.org, will feature the four cornerstones of the combined organization:  

1) Community  
Join a committed group of community members on the MyCP platform at CPRN.org. All are welcome, including adults with CP, parents, and caregivers, clinicians, researchers, and advocates shaping impactful research to improve the lives of people with CP.  

2) Research  
The Cerebral Palsy Research pages of our soon-to-be-released site will fill you in on our active studies and highlight opportunities to participate in ongoing research to improve healthcare outcomes for people with CP.  

3) Education  
Please take advantage of our educational resources and programs to help navigate CP from diagnosis to therapies, treatments, and interventions to maintaining mental and physical health and transitioning to life as an adult with CP. You’ll find many toolkits, guides, and resources all ready to download on our education webpages.   

4) Health and wellbeing  
Log on for programs to maintain and improve physical health and wellbeing. We are working with our trusted partners to implement regular opportunities for community members to participate in healthy activities in their communities.  

Excited? We are too! We’ll reveal our launch date soon, but for now, please keep swinging by cpdailyliving.com, cpnowfoundation.org, cprn.org, and mycp.org for everything you need to know about the CP community.