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R to L: Drs. Studenski, Deshpande, Ferrucci and Simonsick in Dr. Ferrucci’s office at the National Institute on Aging

SRT’s Dr. Nandini Deshpande spends sabbatical at NASA and the National Institutes of Health

From July 2015 through June 2016, Dr. Nandini Deshpande, Associate Professor at the School of Rehabilitation Therapy, is spending a sabbatical year as a visiting scholar at two of the world’s most prestigious research institutions, participating in their exciting and cutting-edge research endeavors.

The first six months of Dr. Deshpande’s work are taking place at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging (NIA) in Baltimore, MD, USA, followed by six months at the Johnson Space Center, NASA, Houston, TX, USA. This sabbatical will provide an opportunity for Dr. Deshpande to develop ongoing long-term collaborations with world renowned scientists at these institutions.

Dr. Deshpande’s research focusses on the vestibular system and the somatosensory system functions and their interactions for maintaining balance and mobility. Her major interests are the impact of aging and pathology on these sensory functions and possible consequent maladaptive modulation in sensory integration processes that may contribute to impaired mobility, decline in physical function and fear of falling.

At NIA, she will work with Drs. Ferrucci (Scientific Director of NIA), Studenski (Director of Longitudinal Studies Section) and Simonsick (Senior Scientist) to investigate two critical areas in aging; deterioration in lower limb somatosensation and its potential impact on physical function, and a potential circular relationship between fear of falling related activity-retraction and physical deconditioning that is proposed to contribute to the disablement process in older persons. She will also develop an extended lower limb somatosensory assessment protocol for NIA’s Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging (BLSA) and will examine the possibility of including morphological evaluation of peripheral neural structures within BLSA.

Collaboration with Dr. Bloomberg, the lead scientist in Sensorimotor Discipline at NASA, will provide a unique opportunity for Dr. Deshpande to clearly establish contribution of vestibular system deficits to balance impairment in the mediolateral direction using extensive pre-flight and post-flight recovery data of postural control, vestibular system function and a large array of potential confounders. Additionally, she will develop collaborative grant proposals to understand the importance and applicability of the assessment tools used in NASA studies for patients with potential vestibular pathologies and for older persons with multisensory decline.

In older individuals, poor balance in the mediolateral direction is associated with high rates of fall-related hip fractures with devastating consequences; Dr. Deshpande’s research and collaborations have the potential to improve quality of life in an increasingly aging population.