Laura Gilchrist, PT, PhD, has dedicated her career to finding new ways to improve physical function in children undergoing cancer treatment. With Lynn Tanner, PT, she is exploring ways to measure chemotherapy-induced damage to peripheral nerves in the hands and feet. While this issue is well described in adults, Dr. Gilchrist is developing a measurement tool specifically for use in children. This tool will not only help Children’s patients, but will be utilized by health care providers and researchers across the country to more precisely evaluate this treatment-related side effect. By assessing children throughout their treatment and into follow-up care, she seeks to determine which changes in nerve function are permanent, with the eventual goal of preventing such damage. This is the first step in her quest to create a new care model that integrates physical status into the care of cancer patients.

In a second study led by Dr. Gilchrist, children at the end of cancer treatment are being evaluated for balance, endurance, strength, posture, and walking mechanics. In this research, she is using a state of the art computerized walkway system to collect information on changes in walking mechanics. Potential deficits such as decreased step length, foot drop, and changes in gait patterns are measured using this novel device. The outcome of this research will potentially help children maintain motor development during treatment and prevent chronic late effects, such as obesity and decreased bone mineral density.