Julie Joyce

Julie Joyce

Technology as simple as an iPhone can be an important tool when it comes to balance recovery for patients of traumatic brain injury, as evidenced in Julie’s study.

Julie Joyce

M.Sc. Medical Science ’21, University of Calgary

B.Sc. Neuroscience ’19, University of Calgary

Grants received

Undergraduate grant in 2018 and 2019

Always interested in science, Julie Joyce became aware of the human-side of it when her family
experienced the challenges of living with neurological disorders. In a span of eighteen months, members of her family were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, post-concussion syndrome and a neurodegenerative condition.

“It was a very challenging time for our family,” Julie recalls. “Every day a new obstacle presented itself that we did not anticipate, and I began to realize that there was a need for better or different approaches for those experiencing neurological symptoms to support regaining independence.”

After graduating from high school, Julie enrolled in the University of Calgary’s neuroscience program–one of the few undergraduate programs in Canada that allow direct entry. “I was excited to find an opportunity to join a small program that encouraged us to participate in research, and that aligned with the human-focused aspect of science that I was interested in. The instructors encouraged us to question everything and to follow our passion.”
For her undergraduate thesis, Julie worked with Dr. Chantel Debert, a physiatrist and associate professor in the department of clinical neurosciences. As lead of the Calgary Brain Injury Program, Dr. Debert has worked with individuals who have experienced multiple concussions.

In the summer of 2018, Julie first obtained a grant from the Branch Out Neurological Foundation when she joined a project that involved working with adults in Calgary who were experiencing balance difficulties after severe traumatic brain injuries.

“Our goal was to compare commonly used clinical balance and visual tests with new technological assessment tools in adults with severe traumatic brain injuries,” Julie explains. “Clinical assessments rely on what the clinician observes. The downside of traditional clinical tests is that they do not allow us to measure things like sway and motion that are hard to pick up visually.”

For the technological assessments, participants in the study wore a belt with an iPhone attached while standing on a foam mat. The iPhone contains an accelerometer which was used to detect and measure subtle swaying or movement while the wearer completed a series of poses.

“Finding sensitive assessment tools is important because if we’re not capturing deficits in the first place, they can go untreated, which can make life very difficult for people living with brain injuries. By comparing the different types of assessments, we were able to see which ones were best suited for people experiencing the aftereffects of brain injury.”

The research is helping to fill gaps in the understanding of balance recovery after severe traumatic brain injury, an area that has been understudied.

In 2019, Julie received a second Branch Out grant, which allowed her to travel to France to continue her research. This time she worked with pediatric patients in addition to adults, using the same comparison of clinical and technological assessments. Having completed the French immersion program, Julie is bilingual but challenged herself by studying French medical vocabulary. “Definitely not something I learned in high school,” she laughs.

“I’m grateful to Branch Out for providing the grant that allowed me to begin my research journey. The flexibility of their funding allowed for ideas outside of the box that led to valuable research experiences here in Calgary and in France.”

Julie has since gone on to complete her Master’s degree in Medical Science at the University of Calgary, where she specialized in medical imaging under the supervision of Dr. Ashley Harris. Her research project used magnetic resonance spectroscopy to examine changes in brain chemistry after an aerobic exercise intervention for persistent post-concussive symptoms.

In November 2022, Julie began working with Dr. Inga Koerte in the Child Brain Research and Imaging in Neuroscience (cBRAIN) lab at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU), in Munich, Germany. She is excited to grow her expertise in neuroimaging and further explore the effects of traumatic brain injury on the brain’s structure, function and development.

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Joyce JM, Mercier LJ, La PL, Bell T, Batycky JM, Debert CT, Harris AD. Glutamate, GABA and glutathione in adults with persistent post-concussive symptoms, 36: 1013152. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2022.103152

Joyce JM, Debert CT, Chevignard M, Sorek G, Katz-Leurer M, Gagnon I, Schneider KJ. Balance impairment in patients with moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injury: Which measures are appropriate for assessment? (2022). Frontiers in Neurology, 13: 906697. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2022.906697

Joyce JM*, La PL*, Walker R, Harris AD. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy of traumatic brain injury and subconcussive hits: A systematic review and meta-analysis. (2022). Journal of Neurotrauma, 39:1455-1476. doi: 10.1089/neu.2022.0125

Mercier LJ, Kowalski K, Fung TS, Joyce JM, Yeates KO, Debert CT. Characterizing physical activity and sedentary behavior in adults with persistent post-concussive symptoms following mild traumatic brain injury. (2021). Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 102(10): 1918-1925. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2021.05.002

Joyce JM, Kibreab M, Cheetham J, Kathol I, Sarna J, Martino D, Monchi O, Debert CT. The impact of traumatic brain injury on motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. (2020). International Review of Psychiatry, 31(1): 46-60. doi: 0.1080/09540261.2019.1656177

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