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Dr. Linda Kim receives a prestigious award from the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation

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Dr. Linda H. Kim, a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Roy V. Sillitoe’s lab at Baylor College of Medicine and the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital, recently received the Mahlon DeLong Young Investigator Award. This award was established by the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation to honor Dr. Mahlon DeLong’s lifetime achievements and service to dystonia research. 

This prestigious award recognizes and supports an early career PhD or MD researcher pursuing ambitious and creative research in dystonia. Dr. Kim is the third recipient of this award since its inception in 2016. She received $70,000 for the first year of her research project titled, “Spike-Triggered Adaptive Closed-Loop Cerebellar Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) for Dystonia.”

Dystonia is a movement disorder that causes the muscles to contract involuntarily which results in repetitive or twisting movements. This condition results due to the misfiring of neurons in a specific region of the brain called the cerebellum. Currently, there is no cure for this condition but medications and surgery can improve the symptoms. While a neurosurgical therapeutic approach called deep brain stimulation (DBS) has been found to provide impressive relief for Parkinson’s disease and tremors, it offers mixed results in dystonia, with benefits reported in <20% to >85% of treated patients, depending on the type of dystonia. 

A major problem is that the current chronic stimulation strategies fail to account for the progression of aberrant neuronal dynamics in the broader motor network, and there is a particularly limited understanding of what is happening in the cerebellum in real-time. Dr. Kim proposes to address this issue by designing a closed-loop customized and self-controlled DBS protocol that can precisely and in real-time identify specific neurophysiological parameters that underlie different features of dystonia such as twisting postures, co-/over-contractions, and initiation and progression of tremor and then offer appropriate responses to these dynamic cerebellar activities. 

“The goal of my research is not just to address a gap in dystonia treatment but to also define specific neurophysiological biomarkers to design a highly customizable therapy that will benefit patients with different dystonia symptoms,” Dr. Kim said. “I am very thankful to DMRF for supporting this research.”

“Linda is a phenomenal neuroscientist and her outstanding contributions perfectly highlight what this award represents. Her idea of designing a closed-loop DBS protocol for dystonia is groundbreaking and has the potential to improve the quality of life for thousands of dystonia patients around the world,” Dr. Sillitoe said.

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