Christy Tomkins-Lane, PhD receives first Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Grant for Mount Royal

Christy Tomkins-Lane, PhD wants to help people avoid back surgery by getting active.

The good news is, she's not too pushy about the whole thing.

In fact, she won't even try to make anyone run… At least not right off the bat.

Her and her team have devoted themselves to developing a clinical trail, the Spinal Stenosis Pedometer and Nutrition Lifestyle Intervention (SSPANLI) program - the aim is to improve lives through, well, walking.

SSPANLI is specifically for individuals with spinal stenosis, a condition that causes narrowing of the open spaces within the spine, putting pressure on the spinal cord and the nerves. It's a condition that often leads to back surgery.

MRU's Christy Tomkins-Lane, PhD spearheads SSPANLI research proje

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has taken note of SSPANLI, and for the very first time awarded Mount Royal University a grant to further the research.

The Catalyst Grant in E-Health Innovations will support the research of Tomkins-Lane, assistant professor in the Department of Physical Education and Recreation, and her team as they engage in a randomized clinical trial testing the SSPANLI program.

"The initial funding through Mount Royal's internal research grants and subsequent CIHR grant has provided the means to support a research initiative that we believe will have profound impacts on the lives of individuals suffering from spinal stenosis," explains Tomkins-Lane. "It's an exciting opportunity for us to make a difference in the lives of Albertans and raise the profile of Mount Royal's research."

The SSPANLI e-health intervention was developed by a team of researchers that included Lynne Lafave, Jill Parnell, Jocelyn Rempel, Marianne Rogerson, Ashok Krishnamurthy, and Charles Hepler from Mount Royal along with researchers from the University of Calgary (UofC), the University of Alberta, Brock University and Alberta Health Services.

In 2011/12 a pilot study was conducted through Mount Royal involving 10 participants with spinal stenosis. Through the use of pedometers to increase walking and promote weight loss, the study's aim was to help overweight and obese participants reduce fat mass, increase physical activity and ultimately improve their quality of life. This pilot study was made possible through a $14,000 internal grant that set the stage for the subsequent randomized clinical trial.

Tomkins-Lane is always keen to promote and facilitate undergraduate research opportunities for students, and the SSPANLI program has provided the opportunity for more than 10 students in Physical Education and Recreation Studies to become involved in clinical research.

Former Mount Royal student Kylie Rowed

Providing student research opportunities

Former Mount Royal student Kylie Rowed, who completed the Bachelor of Physical Education - University Transfer program and is now studying at the UofC, has been involved with the project for four years and credits her research experience with Tomkins-Lane for helping to shape her successive educational pursuits.

"I felt confident enough to approach a professor at UofC and describe my past undergraduate research experience and ask for a further opportunity to complete my honours degree with this professor as my supervisor," says Rowed. "She was very open to doing more research with me because of my experience in the area of research, and took me under her wing right away."

Chris McCance, who lives with spinal stenosis, and is one of the first participants in the randomized trial, has already begun to experience the positive effects of the intervention and speaks highly of the student and faculty researchers.

"The results of my baseline testing indicated that I was leading a very sedentary lifestyle," says McCance. "This was an eye-opener as I thought I was reasonably active. The online intervention lifestyle program is a good tool that offers weekly support. It provides some really good suggestions that help keep me motivated.

The intervention uses an e-health (online) platform to deliver personalized pedometer step goals, physical activity tips, and nutrition education. Participants also receive personalized consultations with registered dietitians and exercise specialists.

"The research team has a very professional approach to this study. The students are engaged and work well with staff and participants. The research study is well laid out and the purpose of the study is explained very well," says McCance.

The ultimate goal of SSPANLI, if the intervention is found to be successful, will be to implement this protocol as a standard for non-surgical care of lumbar spinal stenosis in Alberta.

Brendan Greenslade - Oct. 25, 2013