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Tessa Elliott

M.Sc., Rehabilitation Sciences

Tessa and her teacup pig Winston!

Tessa with her pet pig - Winston!

Looking at Gait & Mobility in People with Multiple Sclerosis

by Sharday Mosurinjohn
February 2014

Originally from the tiny town of Delhi Ontario (about a fifth of the student population of Queen’s), Tessa Elliott came to the Master’s program in Rehabilitation Sciences via a Health Sciences undergraduate at Western. Her work takes place in the Motor Performance Lab, a multi-user facility that houses the research programs of 6 principal investigators of whom her supervisor Dr. Nandini Deshpande is one.

Like Deshpande, Elliott is interested in the impact of changes in sensory functions and sensory integration processes on mobility in the elderly. She had taken a number of courses on aging during her previous degree, originally intending to pursue her graduate research in neuroscience. But Elliott also had a special interest in mobility in people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), one that grew out of her own father’s diagnosis, and that happened to be an issue Deshpande had recently decided to pursue with a pilot study on gait and mobility in people with MS.

According to Elliott, her dad was “surprised” that people “do this much research into MS,” the shorthand name for a constellation of physical changes brought about as the insulating cover (myelin) of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord is damaged by inflammation. Having already recruited her mother as a participant in studies where this neurological condition was an exclusionary factor, Elliott looks forward to being able to invite her dad to pilot her eventual MS study as participant number one.

In contrast to neuroscience, which focuses on the structure or function of the nervous system and brain, rehabilitation science is the systematic study of disablement within the individual, community, and society. As it turns out, the social and cultural elements of rehab science suit Elliott’s long-term goals particularly well. At the end of her second year in 2015 Elliott will be applying to a combined MD/PhD program like the one recently opened at Queen’s. She hopes then to work with people with MS both as a researcher and as a clinician. And while pursuing her work in rehab science, Elliott can still take courses offered by the Centre for Neuroscience Studies.  

Being yet in the early days of her two-year MSc, Elliott will be dividing her time between a number of projects before turning her attention to these future studies. She is working on applications to the Ontario Graduate Scholarship program (OGS) and the MS Society for research funding. Currently she is a Teaching Assistant (TA) for Physiotherapy courses offered to second-year MSc students. Rather than leading tutorials, though, she explains, her work mostly involves setting up for labs, marking tests, and helping with clinical exams. “I thought I would be TAing nervous first years!” quips Elliott. “I’m looking forward to finding out how I like teaching.” Her supervisor, Dr. Deshpande, also advises two PhD students—who were joined last semester by two exchange students—whose studies Elliott also assists.

In the summer, these graduate researchers plan to take advantage of the practical skills among them by putting together a rehab science baseball team. “After all, it’s a faculty full of physiotherapists,” smiles Elliott, “so even if perfect form doesn’t totally prevent injury, our players shouldn’t be benched for long.”

There’s another kind of instrumental connection between Elliott’s studies and one of her other interests as well. During her undergrad, Elliott promised herself that once she finished she would reward her accomplishment with a pet. She missed having animals around, but since she wasn’t terribly fond of cats, and the kind of dog she wanted would be outsized for apartment living, she eventually settled on the best of all worlds: a teacup pig. Winston the pig is small, clean, and clever, and likes going on walks, just like a dog. It would seem he sets a high bar, moreover, for commemorating Elliott’s next graduation.

In the meantime, Elliott’s work toward that goal depends in part upon recruiting volunteer study participants. So if you think you may be eligible and interested in the following study, get in touch with Elliott at tessa.elliott@queensu.ca or (613) 483-3184:

Healthy men and women in their 40s and/or 60s are invited to participate in a research study at Queen’s University whose purpose is to understand how we are able to maintain clear vision when walking. Session one will require 1.5 hours of your time and if invited, session two will require 45 minutes. Refreshments and free parking will be provided. To cover the cost of transportation and meals you will be given $15 for session one and $10 for session two.  

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