Game Changer

The new Gray Centre for Mobility and Activity is being called a game changer. With a playbook five years in the making, the Centre represents an intersection of research, education and clinical care. And, the people of Southwestern Ontario and beyond living with mobility and common associated disorders affecting mood and cognition will benefit.

By Jennifer Parraga, BA’93

Photograph of Dr. Tim Doherty"It was a long process, but it’s definitely been worth it,” said Dr. Tim Doherty reflecting on the discussions related to the development of the Centre.

Dr. Doherty sees the intense need for increased research and clinical advancements for the aging population on a daily basis as the Chair/Chief of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

“Ask any person over a certain age what worries them and they will tell you it’s the loss of mobility, cognition and independence,” he said. “From a societal standpoint the need for a Centre of this kind is immense.”

It was in 2015 that Dr. Doherty and Dalton Wolfe, PhD, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences put together a funding proposal to the hospital foundation for a pilot project focused on enriched programing in mobility for stroke and spinal cord injured patients and older adults. The project, planned for St. Joseph’s Health Care London’s (St. Joseph’s) Parkwood Institute, caught the eye and interest of local philanthropists William (Bill) and Lynne Gray.

Two years later, a business model and plan were being created with the support from clinical, academic, research, hospital administration, industry and community partners, as well as from those with lived experience.

“We asked the question: How do you successfully take research and integrate it into care?” Dr. Doherty said.

The answers filled the pages of the playbook.

Every step taken in the planning was thoughtful and intentional. And partnerships were the heartbeat that pushed the plan forward.

“This type of project and the research and clinical care we envision can’t happen with small groups. It’s big, it’s collaborative and it’s inclusive,” said Dr. Doherty.

In the fall of 2019, St. Joseph’s announced a $7.5 million donation for a new research and clinical centre from the Grays.

The Centre will support a broad range of patient populations. Clinical and research teams in stroke rehabilitation, musculoskeletal disease, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, amputee rehabilitation, mental health and geriatrics will work together to improve health outcomes.

Dr. Manuel Montero-Odasso is excited by the potential of the Centre. A Professor in geriatrics, clinician scientist, and the Director of the Gait & Brain Lab at Parkwood Institute, he was part of the planning group. A team lead for the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging, Dr. Montero-Odasso brought a national lens to the project and mission.

“The beautiful thing about the Gray Centre is that our clinical research will be integrated right in the hospital where care is taking place,” he said. “At the end of the day, we want to have enough evidence-based research to create practice guidelines to improve mobility in older adults and in my work to expand lifestyle intervention strategies and make them available nationally.”

For many years, Dr. Montero-Odasso’s work has been focused on the interaction between cognition and mobility in older adults. He has conducted large clinical studies like the Gait and Brain Study to learn more about how the interaction between the mind and the body happen in aging and how it created disability.

Recently, he has been leading a clinical trial on lifestyle interventions used to reduce mobility problems and improve attention and memory in older adults at risk of dementia. He’s encouraged by the results, which show that the combination of physical and cognitive exercises is better than doing one or the other in isolation.

Stephanie Cornell shares in Drs. Doherty and Montero-Odasso’s enthusiasm for the Centre.

A physiotherapist and member of the Spinal Cord and Brain Injury team at Parkwood Institute, her work spans research and clinical domains.

She says that the Centre will enrich and increase the current research and potentially allow for more education opportunities for graduate students and trainees.

“The Gray Centre has an inspiring vision derived from a deep and meaningful need. It epitomizes the great things that can happen when the University, hospitals and community leaders come together.” — Dr. John Yoo, Dean Schulich Medicine & Dentistry

“I started in physiotherapy because I wanted to do sports medicine. Then I did a placement with the rehab team at Parkwood, and it changed the trajectory of my career,” said Cornell. “We are already on the frontier of rehab work, and there is so much passion on improving care, I know the Centre will allow us to push forward with more.”

Cornell’s research is practice-based and aims to understand what rehabilitation training modalities work well for patients. The research and clinical teams, including therapists, work closely to establish standardized assessment measures, and through the activities, capture data to better understand how the activities are impacting the patients.

The hope, she says, is that if patients sustain a major life injury, we will have a better understanding about what will make a positive impact on their outcomes.

“I want to be in a place where I know immediately what treatment is going to give each patient the best outcomes and present the fewest barriers.”

A leading researcher will be central to all the science undertaken at the Centre. Thanks to the funding from the Grays and matching funds from the University through the Western Research Chairs Program, a fully funded endowed position based in the Faculty of Health Sciences was created.

Announced in the summer of 2020, the William and Lynne Gray Research Chair in Mobility & Activity will play a central role in the Faculty of Health Sciences signature research area that aims to understand, improve, restore and manage mobility outcomes that affect people throughout all stages of life. And partnership and collaboration with researchers across Schulich Medicine & Dentistry will be an important element to the Chair’s role.

It is expected that the new Centre will open its doors in 2021. In doing so, it will serve as a strong statement to value and success of partnerships across the School and health community in Southwestern Ontario.

“The Gray Centre has an inspiring vision derived from a deep and meaningful need. It epitomizes the great things that can happen when the University, hospitals and community leaders come together,” said Dr. John Yoo, Dean, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.

Creating and strengthening partnerships are at the core of Dr. Yoo’s vision. In sharing this principle, University and hospital leaders are committed to a ‘One London’ approach to health care innovation and research with a global impact.