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CCRF Researcher Spotlight

Dr. Jean-Sébastien Blouin,

University of British Columbia

Dr. Jean-Sébastien Blouin, former CCRF Research Chair in Spine Biomechanics and Neurophysiology, conducts research at the University of British Columbia (UBC). He studies the physiological processes underlying human balance. . .

Dr. Blouin, why does this research topic interest you?

Dr. Blouin: I have always been interested in understanding how the brain works and how it integrates different sensory cues to allow us to navigate and act in our environments. One of the best models for studying the brain’s multi-sensory integration mechanisms is standing balance because cues from vision, audition, proprioception and the vestibular system are all required to stay upright.

To help us understand balance, we have used various approaches. For example, we have developed robotic devices to simulate the control of standing balance. This unique robotic device enables us to separate the brain from the mechanics of the body it controls, allowing us to understand the limits of our brain and potentially inform us of novel targets for assessment and therapy.

How will your research help health practitioners better understand (and treat) major diseases, like Parkinson’s disease?

Dr. Blouin: My research focuses on the fundamental science related to understanding the physiological principles underlying how the brain works. Through our mechanistic discoveries, we are identifying potential biomedical applications, including uses for different patient populations. For example, our recent work on how the vestibular control of standing balance needs to be turned off to enable a person to transition from standing to walking (i.e., turn off the mechanisms that allow us to stand to enable motion) has sparked multidisciplinary collaborations on the mechanisms underlying the freezing of gait in persons with Parkinson’s disease. Novel approaches like these could prove transformative in the assessment and management of specific patient conditions.

Hence, our balance-related work is aimed at helping Chiropractors understand why their patients are experiencing balance issues and will lead to better assessment and treatment of these patients with reliable, evidence-informed methods and approaches. The utilization of these methods will also help other areas of decision-making such as return to work, rendering far-reaching implications for this research (and the profession).

Any other research that you’re excited about?

Dr. Blouin: I have also been researching whiplash injuries, specifically how the neck muscles react to rear-end impacts. Our team designed, built and tested a smart car seat to minimize the effects of whiplash on the head and torso responses. The smart car seat is truly active, enabling it to react differently based on the characteristics of the rear-end impact, but also based on the characteristics of the occupants. We have completed initial testing of the smart car seat. The results were very positive in reducing most kinematic and kinetic parameters associated with whiplash injuries. We are now waiting to test the technology with humans. It’s very exciting.

Wow, that is exciting. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Dr. Blouin: I am most excited about the use of technology, such as robotics and wearable sensory devices, to transform the assessment, management and potential treatment of health-related conditions. Wearable technologies are quickly changing our interactions with the world and such technologies are improving rapidly. They are integrated with our phones, watches and other electronics we use daily. These wearable technologies have the potential to transform our interactions with healthcare and with practitioners. In the not-so-distant future, Chiropractors will be able monitor whether their patients are following health-related recommendations when they are away from the office. This could have immense benefits in managing a patient’s condition.

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