Between summer and fall in beautiful Kiel…

In the context of the Innovative Training Network (ITN) “KEEP CONTROL”, fellows are required to perform minimum 2 research stays of minimum 2 weeks each at a Keep Control beneficiary’s place, for a total of minimum 7 weeks of research stays during their 3 years of PhD research. Such research stays are called “secondments”. PhD students who are working in the academic field have to carry out at least one secondment in a company and vice versa. In this respect, Yuhan (the fellow from University Medical Center Groningen) and Madli (the fellow from Lille University Medical Center) travelled to Kiel University (Christian-Albrechts-Universität, CAU) in September for 4 and 3 weeks respectively.

Both fellows were warmly welcomed by the Neurogieriatric Kiel research group supervised by Prof. Walter Maetzler. Dr. Clint Hansen helped Yuhan and Madli with overall secondment organization: for accommodation as well as for any work issues. Besides, all the other group members also made the integration of the two PhD students possible. Indeed, Madli and Yuhan had the opportunity to attend a weekly clinical visit of geriatric patients, a small consortium about Parkinson’s disease, weekly group meetings, and clinical assessments involved in two different multi-center studies (one with geriatric patients and the other one with parkinsonian patients with freezing of gait) and in Elke’s study (the Keep Control fellow from CAU). From Yuhan’s point of view, it was the occasion to be immersed in a clinical environment, which is a long way from his work environment as a computer scientist. Madli, who is working with patients with Parkinson’s disease in the context of one of her project in Lille, could observe and compare how clinical studies are taking place in a different workplace and in a different country, and she could exchange about practices and habits.

The main objective of Yuhan’s secondment was to collect information about a dataset from Kiel’s team on which he will work. Indeed, one of his PhD projects aims to find gait and balance parameters (from clinical assessments and accelerometers) that estimate best the risk of falls in a geriatric population. For this purpose, Yuhan will use machine learning and, more particularly, deep learning approaches. Thanks to attendance to clinical assessments at Kiel’s University Hospital and discussion with the medical doctor in charge of data collection, his secondment in Kiel allowed him to better understand human movement data in order to perform meaningful analyses of such data. Furthermore, Yuhan had the opportunity to present his project and related methods of analysis at the group meeting taking place once a week. Discussion with the group members – data scientists as well as clinicians – led to a clarification of the project’s objectives and methods.


Figure 1 Yuhan’s presentation at Kiel’s group meeting

During her stay in Kiel, Madli collaborated on a project with Dr. Christian Schlenstedt, leader of the research group “Neuromechanics & Neurorehabilitation” at CAU. They aimed to investigate the impact of the initial center of pressure (COP) position prior to anticipatory postural adjustments on the preparation and execution of the first step in people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) with and without freezing of gait (FOG), and healthy controls. Indeed, FOG in PD is linked to a shift of the COP towards the heels during stance and this COP displacement correlates with the severity of FOG [1]. However, it is unclear whether this COP shift during stance impacts the preparation and execution of the first step during gait initiation or whether the altered COP position serves as a compensatory mechanism to avoid forward falls. For the purpose of this project, Madli brought data collected few years ago by her supervisor, Prof. Arnaud Delval. After some discussions with Christian and a presentation of the project at the group meeting, Madli implemented a Matlab script for data analysis and analyzed data afterwards. Before her departure, statistical methods to investigate the results were discussed but the study will be finalized remotely.


Figure 2 Madli’s presentation at Kiel’s group meeting

Next to the excellent Kiel’s work environment, Yuhan and Madli could enjoy from the German coastal city under beautiful lights of September, somewhere in between summer and fall. The two fellows spent great time working with each other, but also for learning from each other and visiting the city.


Figure 3 Sunset on beautiful Kiel

The secondment stay in Kiel was concluded by an attendance to the European science night held in Kiel, together with Leila, a third Keep Control fellow from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (see previous blog post). This event was the tip point of a great month of research and sharing, during which Keep Control fellows still improved their ability of cooperating inside a scientific network. After having thanked Walter, Clint, Elke and all Kiel’s team, Yuhan and Madli promised to come back for other similar experiences!

[1]        C. Schlenstedt, M. Muthuraman, K. Witt, B. Weisser, A. Fasano, et G. Deuschl, « Postural control and freezing of gait in Parkinson’s disease », Parkinsonism Relat. Disord., vol. 24, p. 107‑112, mars 2016.

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