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Saint Joseph's University Magazine News

Improving Patients’ Lives After Stroke

Research Margie Roos, PT, DPT, PhD, professor and vice chair of the Department of Physical Therapy, studies how varying levels of exercise improve stroke patients’ cognitive and physical abilities. Roos recently received grant funding for two projects that bring community members into the University for rehabilitation.
Photo of the human brain
Written by: Alex Hargrave ’20 Total reading time: 3 minutes

Life after a stroke can be difficult for patients, particularly those in the chronic stroke phase, which occurs six months after the initial event. Fear of physical injury can keep them inactive, and inactivity can make it more difficult to complete what were once simple physical tasks.

Saint Joseph’s Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Physical Therapy Margie Roos, PT, DPT, PhD, and her students are using exercise to help stroke patients in this stage of recovery be more active and participate in their communities. For Roos, that means helping them reach their goals — whether that goal is to go back to work or simply to walk across the parking lot to a grandson’s baseball game. 

“There's this vicious cycle of, they're not very active, so then they have trouble doing things. Then they have trouble doing things, so they're not very active," she says.

Roos and Gregory Thielman, PT, MSPT, ATC, EdD, professor of physical therapy, have been working on two research projects that aim to break this cycle using cognitive retraining. This involves helping a patient who suffered a traumatic brain injury, such as a stroke, retrain previously learned skills and develop compensatory strategies. 

Funded by the Edna G. Kynett Memorial Foundation, Roos’ research sought to discover whether a brain fitness program called Ageless Grace helped stroke patients improve their cognition and movement. Physical therapy and occupational therapy students were trained on the program and later led classes with patients over Zoom during the pandemic. 

“There's this vicious cycle of, they're not very active, so then they have trouble doing things. Then they have trouble doing things, so they're not very active.” - Margie Roos, PT, DPT, PhD, professor and vice chair of the Department of Physical Therapy

Exercises challenge participants to think, speak and move at the same time. One example of an exercise is “front row orchestra,” during which patients are asked to choose an instrument and mimic playing it. While completing this action, participants were also asked to observe the instruments others were playing and name those.

“Often, a physician will suggest Sudoku or crossword puzzles to improve your memory, but these are sedentary games,” Roos says. “In contrast, this is an exercise program that makes your brain work. It’s really challenging the brain but, in addition, it requires movement. One of the really nice things about it is that all the exercises are done in a seated position, so everybody can do it.”

After logging on twice a week for 12 weeks, Roos found that the low-intensity exercise program improves overall mobility for a control group of healthy older adults. And during class, Roos says, she observed that participants who previously suffered a stroke were improving in their dual-tasking abilities. 

In addition to Roos’ low-intensity exercise study, she was awarded a grant to investigate the impact of a higher-intensity circuit training program that combines treadmill walking, balance retraining, and upper- and lower-extremity exercises with cognitive retraining to improve recovery in stroke patients. This study is still in the early stages.

“It's pretty clear that when people exercise, especially if they have a neurologic injury, they need to exercise at a certain intensity to make the brain change the way it functions,” she says. “This can in turn get you to be more active and have better brain function.”

New Treatment Could Curb Alcohol Abuse

Research In their research, Saint Joseph’s Asha Suryanarayanan, PhD, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, and doctoral candidate Steven Decker discovered a potentially groundbreaking compound that was found to limit alcohol intake in laboratory rats.
Green and brown beer bottles
Written by: Alex Hargrave ’20 Total reading time: 2 minutes

Research by a Saint Joseph’s University professor and PhD candidate could eventually help people curb their alcohol intake. 

Steven Decker, a doctoral candidate in the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, recently published a study about the drug compound Desformylflustrabromine (dFBr) and its potential applications. His research builds on that of other students who have studied with Asha Suryanarayanan, PhD, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, who discovered a novel use for dFBr.

Decker says that he was interested in studying this compound and how it can play a role in reducing alcohol dependence because alcohol abuse is such a prevalent part of life – especially considering there are not many practical pharmaceutical treatments that exist for alcoholism. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, nearly 15 million adults suffer from alcohol use disorder. Of those, less than 10% receive treatment. 

“Some people are more prone to addiction,” he says. “You can go from just drinking on occasions, maybe you drink a glass of wine with dinner, and then you're drinking a glass of wine with every dinner and then you're drinking two glasses, a bottle.”

Decker and Suryanarayanan used an intermittent two-bottle choice study, meaning the rats used in the experiment had the choice of drinking from a bottle with water or a bottle with alcohol. This is a well-studied animal model that emulates voluntary alcohol consumption in humans. In the beginning, Suryanarayanan says, rats don’t like the taste of alcohol, so they add sweetener for a few days to get them to drink it. 

After eight weeks, the rats voluntarily consumed alcohol, Suryanarayanan says. Then, she and Decker injected them with dFBr, and from there, measured how much alcohol they drank by weighing the bottles.

Decker and Suryanarayanan reported two major findings: Both males and females showed reduced alcohol consumption when injected with dFBr, and females drink less alcohol to begin with. Both are excited about the findings; however, this is only a start. The drinking habits of the rats used in the study mimic those of social drinkers.

“The idea would be to test this drug again on a model where the rats are drinking much more,” says Suryanarayanan. She’s hopeful to get funding for the study, which could potentially help those who abuse alcohol.


Novel Breast Cancer Treatments

Research An NIH R15 research grant will enable pharmaceutical sciences faculty Isabelle Mercier, PhD, and Jean-Francois Jasmin, PhD, and Saint Joseph’s students to study targeted therapies that could treat triple-negative breast cancer.
A close up image of human cells
Written by: Diane Holliday Total reading time: 3 minutes

Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is an aggressive form of cancer that disproportionately affects women of color. Prognosis for TNBC is the poorest among all types of breast cancers, and traditional treatment options carry risks to patients, including cancer recurrence, unintended eradication of healthy cells and adverse physical side effects.

Isabelle Mercier, PhD, chair and associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, and Jean-Francois Jasmin, PhD, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, and associate provost for research and graduate administration and policy, have been studying breast cancers and the molecular mechanisms associated with them for more than a decade.

“Hands-on research strengthens their problem-solving, communication and leadership skills. It’s been proven time and time again that when you practice something hands-on, it helps you better understand concepts in the classroom.” - Jean-Francois Jasmin, PhD

The pair were awarded a three-year, $435,000 R15 grant from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Cancer Institute to study a protein called CAPER (RBM39) that will allow for a more targeted treatment option.

“We are working on biomarker discovery, in this case, identifying something inside the tumor that makes it grow quickly,” explains Mercier. “The biomarker we identified in TNBC is a protein called CAPER, which makes the cancer cells grow fast and aggressively. Our study proposes to remove the protein from within the tumor, study it in preclinical studies to see how the tumor responds over time and in combination with traditional therapies.”

Mercier and Jasmin first identified this protein in a less-aggressive type of cancer and are using this research grant to explore options for patients who are in dire need of effective targeted therapies. The grant will also give them the opportunity to train Saint Joseph’s students to work in the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries and potentially become scientists themselves.

“Students are crucial to the research mission of the University," says Jasmin. "It’s a two-way street, he adds. “Hands-on research strengthens their problem-solving, communication and leadership skills. It’s been proven time and time again that when you practice something hands-on, it helps you better understand concepts in the classroom.”

Over the next several years, Mercier and Jasmin aim to publish their results in high-impact journals with the goal of garnering additional funding to pursue more research and, ultimately, having a positive impact on patients’ lives.

“It’s about building reputation amongst your peers, attracting the best and brightest students and faculty to the institution, and expanding the reach of our research,” says Jasmin.

While it’s still early, their work with the CAPER protein could be used to treat other types of aggressive cancers, including brain, lung, pancreatic and ovarian cancers.