Exploring the therapeutic potential of exercise in neurodegenerative disease using MRI
Jessica Steventon's research, funded by the Waterloo Foundation, is focused on better understanding the neural mechanisms underlying observed beneficial effects of exercise.
The long-range objective is to gain insight into how exercise can be optimally prescribed as a therapeutic intervention to people with Huntington's disease (HD).
HD is a severe neurodegenerative disease caused by a genetic mutation and there is currently no cure.
The disease generally develops in adulthood and people who have the genetic mutation experience a range of debilitating symptoms which progressively worsen with time. My research aims to explore the therapeutic potential of exercise to reduce the severity of symptoms and slow the rate of symptom and pathology progression.
Exercise has been found to be associated with a range a health benefits, and can reduce the severity of symptoms in a number of neurodegenerative and neurodevelopment disorders, including HD. However, it is not clear why these beneficial effects occur, how long-lasting they are, and the dose and type of exercise required.
The first stage in this research programme is currently underway and aims to characterise the neural response to acute exercise. We are interested in whether a person's cardiovascular fitness is related to measures of cerebral vascular health.
There is evidence to suggest that physiologically, people with HD may respond differently to exercise compared to healthy people without the HD gene. Thus, the next stage is to examine whether the cerebrovascular response is the same in healthy people and people with HD.
The outcome of this work will potentially inform how exercise is prescribed in people living with HD.