Ph.D Candidate, Neuroscience
Keeping Fit, Keeping Smart
By Angela Coderre-Ball
22 May 2012
Doctoral candidate, Laura Smithson, certainly knows a thing or two about keeping her mind and body in top form. Laura is a neuroscientist, a soccer and hockey enthusiast and a dedicated volunteer working with Kingston seniors.
As a graduate student in the Centre for Neuroscience Studies, Laura has spent the past four years studying neuropathic pain. Neuropathtic pain is a form of chronic pain that can, for reasons unknown, persist long after an injury has healed. In the laboratory of Dr. Michael Kawaja, Laura studies the phenomenon known as sympathosensory coupling. After injury to peripheral nerves, postganglionic sympathetic axons (neurons that are part of the autonomic nervous system) sometimes begin to grow abnormally and can become entangled around sensory neurons. Laura is working to understand why these sensory neurons are targeted and what biochemical factors contribute to this abnormal coupling, thereby contributing to neuropathic pain.
Outside the laboratory, Laura is an avid soccer and hockey player as well as a long-standing executive member of theNeuroscience Outreach Program. The Neuroscience Outreach Program is a student initiative within the Centre for Neuroscience Studies. The objects of the Neuroscience Outreach Program are to develop long-term and consistent community-based programs centered on issues of childhood development, aging, physical rehabilitation and mental health. Once the director of the Neuroscience Outreach Program, Laura now focuses her energy developing science-based courses for Kingston seniors. Since 2009, Laura has been working with fellow graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to provide local seniors with a firm foundation in neuroscience and general health science. Her goal is to educate Kingstonians about the benefits of both physical and mental activity as we age, thereby empowering them to make evidence-based decisions about their health.
The first senior's science course was an introductory neuroscience course, since then Laura has helped the course evolve into a general health course offered at the Kingston Seniors Association and the Kingsdale Chateau. The courses run about 10 weeks, with an hour lecture per week, focusing on topics she found were relevant to seniors: physical and mental exercise, nutrition, stroke, memory loss, cancer, endocrinology and pain. Through feedback from the seniors, Laura has discovered that while there are may be perceived 'negative' physical and mental changes that occur with advancing age, seniors are more interested in the perceived 'positive' changes and pro-active measures that can be used to promote physical and mental health. As a result, Laura has developed her general health science course to focus on the benefits of aging as well as life style changes that can help bring about a long, healthy and happy life.
Combining her love of science, athletics and teaching, Laura is looking to career in academics and teaching.