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Industrial Academic Initial Training Network towards specific diagnosis and treatment of age-related gait and balance deficits

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Keep Control (Industrial Academic Initial Training Network towards specific diagnosis and treatment of age-related gait and balance deficits)

Reporting period: 2017-03-01 to 2019-02-28

KEEP CONTROL is an EU-funded industrial academic initial training network towards specific diagnosis and treatment of age-related gait and balance deficits. It educates 12 PhD students in the area of gait and balance deficits in older adults. Balance and gait deficits are ubiquitous among the older population, and lead to an enormous personal, occupational and health care burden. Emerging pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions to date have only small to moderate effects on these deficits. This is likely due to remaining fundamental questions on underlying mechanisms and treatment. Together with their supervisors that are experts in the fields of clinical, biomechanic and neuroscience research as well as experts from industry, the PhD fellows investigate different aspects of age-related gait and balance deficits. These include questions like: Are assessments of balance and gait in the clinic and the home environment comparable? How well do gait and balance deficits differentiate between prodromal phases of Parkinson’s disease and controls, and between Parkinsonian syndromes? How are freezing of gait and balance connected? How does sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) influence gait and balance deficits? We also employ promising therapeutic strategies for specific gait and balance deficits in older adults, including both pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic strategies. Finally, we have included a sophisticated assessment strategy based on the World Health Organization (WHO)-developed International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF model) across all KEEP CONTROL studies and will analyse these data using novel AI-based algorithms.
All PhD fellows started in time and the respective projects are running smoothly. The coordination of datasets across the KEEP CONTROL studies has been successfully implemented. All prospective studies investigating particpants have been approved by the respective local ethical committees. In addition, the ethical advisor of KEEP CONTROL (Dr. Olga Scheck, University of Tübingen, Germany) also found no issues concerning the ethical aspects of the studies.

The Keep Control partners have established a lively network and profit from the exchange of both knowledge and research means and resources, implemented by secondments. Fellows were integrated in the
training program of Moving Beyond including a personal development plan, decision about a second mentor and enrollment in a Graduate School and – if necessary – participation in a language course.
Three training weeks – including soft skill courses – have already taken place, and were evaluated by both fellows and organizers. The Keep Control website was established as a teaching and reference tool for the fellows (internal cloud) and to raise the public awareness of the project (www.keep-control.eu). All fellows published a brief description about their projects. Further activities are in preparation. All partners of
the consortium meet regularly to present results and to discuss open points.
This ETN project includes new features that are clearly beyond the state of the art. First, the projects of the PhD fellows are designed by research experts that are leaders in their respective fields. This guarantees per se a high quality output in the field of gait and balance diagnostics / management in older ages. Second, a relevant number of supervisors have already gained experience with the MSC ETN network approach and have come to appreciate the intense networking on a PhD level that has the potential to bring the involved students to a new level of knowledge, communication skills and interaction. The experience so far has already helped to bring the KEEP CONTROL fellows to an outstanding level concerning network building capabilities and communication skills. Third, the assessments of the prospective studies performed by the fellows are adapted to the ICF model, ensuring an exhaustive and daily living-relevant collection of data about diseases, functioning and resources. This approach provides the fellows with a comprehensive overview of the functionality of the participants. Fourth, we have implemented a patient- (here: participant-) controlled electronical health record, to test feasibility, acceptability and aspects of utility of this novel instrument that is currently implemented in many countries. This aspect provides insight into entirely novel and highly relevant technical developments in our health system that will help to empower patients by involving them more deeply in the decision making process as well as their own treatment. In sum, this ETN is well on track concerning the education of their fellows as well as the scientific progress, helping to better understand and treat gait and balance deficits in older adults.