By Liam Johnson

Late in 2015, I was fortunate to be awarded an Endeavour Research Fellowship, which supports aspiring Australian scientists to travel and engage in research at an overseas institution. My fellowship encompasses visits to some world-renowned stroke rehabilitation research laboratories, a presentation at the American Society for Neurorehabilitation (ASNR), and leading a research project at the Burke Medical Research Institute in New York.

First stop was the ASNR meeting, which is an off-shoot of the Society for Neuroscience Conference, and held in San Diego. Here I had the privilege to speak on behalf of Julie Bernhardt and the AVERT collaborators in a symposium titled ‘Big Data for Rehabilitation: Promises, Pitfalls and Future Potential’.

It was a fantastic meeting to be a part of, and a little different to the usual conference. In fact, it was run very similarly to the annual Florey Stroke Scientific Meeting. A small number of presentations around a common theme, with lots of time afterwards to discuss and converse with some of the big names in neurorehabilitation, including John Krakauer, Steven Zeiler, Tom Carmichael, Catherine Lang, Nick Ward and Dale Corbett. Click here for some of the presenters’ slides/handouts.

My presentation was well received (BIG thanks to Julie Bernhardt and Janice Collier for their help and support in the preparation of the presentation), and our symposium generated much discussion around what ‘big data’ really is, the value of ‘big data’ in neurorehabilitation, and what needs to change in study design and reporting to enhance our capacity to use ‘big data’ to generate answers to clinically relevant questions. Overall, the meeting provided an excellent forum for some of the big questions in stroke rehabilitation and recovery to be highlighted and discussed at length among leaders in the field. Though I must add, answers to the big questions like what the optimal timing and dose of rehabilitation post-stroke is, when should compensation vs. true recovery be targeted, and how best to enhance neuroplasticity (and when), remain elusive.

I spent two weeks with Dr Sandra Billinger at her REACH Laboratory, but the sunny climes of San Diego were easily forgotten after some very crisp days in Kansas City. I am refusing to calculate the difference in Fahrenheit and Celsius and keep telling myself that 30 degrees is beautiful weather! I have been warmly welcomed by Dr Billinger and her team at the Kansas University Medical Centre (KUMC). I presented to faculty staff, hospital clinicians and physical and occupational therapy students, providing some insights into some of the work our laboratory and collaborators are doing in stroke rehabilitation.

I also had the opportunity to meet with the Dean of the School of Health Professions, Professor Abiodun Akinwuntan, tour the KUMC acute stroke ward and inpatient rehabilitation centre, meet and talk to the physical therapy PhD students, and observe some of Dr Billinger’s studies. Just as happenstance, last week was International Exchange Week, which meant lots of seminars (and free lunches) and activities to attend, including the Global Fair, in which all the international students brought their local cuisine to share – the Saudi Arabian ‘beehive’ dessert was sooooo good!

I had some time to enjoy the sights of Kansas City also, including attending a National Football League game at Arrowhead Stadium, the loudest stadium in the world apparently, though justified, as it was ridiculously loud. I spent quite a few hours exploring the terrific Nelson Art Museum, and I have done more than my fair share in supporting the ‘BBQ’ trade in Kansas City, including a night at the famous Joe’s Garage’. They love their BBQ over here!!

In Vancouver I visited Professors Janice Eng and Lara Boyd, and of course, it was great to catch up with our very own Kate Hayward. But before that, I was invited by Dr Billinger to share in her family’s Thanksgiving festivities, which was very exciting as you can imagine.

Feel free to follow me and updates of my travels on Twitter at @liamgjohnson.

Pictured (From L to R) are: Professor Steven Cramer, University of California Irvine; Liam Johnson; Dr Keith Lohse, Auburn University; Dr Sook-Lei Liew, University of Southern California and Professor Kenneth Ottenbacher, University of Texas.