Rehab Sciences Research News

Olivia Tsihlias Awarded the Syd Vernon Graduate Student Award

Congratulations to Olivia Tsihlias for being awarded the Syd Vernon Graduate Student Award as part of the 2022 Spring Awards competition! The Syd Vernon Fund for the Disabled supports charitable organizations for the betterment of persons with mental, physical or sensory disabilities. The Fund also supports the advancement of education for those persons committed to working with people with disabilities and their families.

Tell us a little bit about your lab/ What type of research are you conducting?

As a trainee in the Zwicker Lab at BC Children’s Hospital, our research focuses on brain development in children with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD). DCD is a common but under-recognized neurodevelopmental disorder affecting one in 20 children. DCD significantly impacts a child’s ability to learn and execute motor skills such as printing, tying shoelaces, or riding a bicycle. Specifically, my research focuses on preterm children with DCD and analyses brain structure and motor outcomes before and after rehabilitation intervention.

What award did you win, and how will this help your research?

I am honoured and very grateful to receive the Syd Vernon Graduate Student Award. This award will allow me to have more balance in my school/work/life schedule and ultimately increase my research output and exploration for DCD in the preterm population.

What do you like to do outside of academia?

Living in Vancouver has been amazing! I am able to keep active year-round while enjoying my favourite activities. In the warmer months, I love playing soccer, hiking, kayaking, and sailing. In the colder months, you can find me enjoying BC’s beautiful ski hills.


VCH Top Graduating Doctoral Student & Rising Star Award Recipients

Join us in congratulating Jesse Charlton, recipient of VCH’s 2022 Top Graduating Doctoral Student Award, and Cristina Rubino, recipient of VCH’s 2022 Rising Star Award!

These awards recognize outstanding efforts by VCHRI trainees for research excellence, service as role models and other contributions that each has made to benefit the Vancouver Coastal Health research community.

You can read about their accomplishments and their research at the VCH announcement:

Congratulations, Jesse and Cristina, on your wonderful achievements.


Canada Graduate Scholarships-Masters Recipients

Congratulations to Julia Dahlby and Niloufar Benam for being awarded the Canada Graduate Scholarships-Master’s (CGS-M)! The CGS-M is awarded to high-calibre scholars to help develop their research skills and assists in the training of highly qualified personnel. As recipients of this award administered by CIHR, Julia and Niloufar have the opportunity to fully concentrate on their Master’s studies.

Julia Dahlby

Julia is an MSc student supervised by Dr. Lara Boyd in the Brain Behaviour Lab. This lab examines how the human brain recovers from various types of injury and illness through a variety of methods including motor testing, neural imaging, and cognitive testing.

Julia’s research focuses on examining the relationship between pre-stroke hand grip strength, stroke severity, and sex using data from the UK Biobank. The study’s findings could be used to prescribe preventative interventions and enable better outcomes for Canadian women with stroke.

Outside of academia, Julia works as a physiotherapist at Tall Tree on Commercial Drive treating patients with various musculoskeletal conditions. In her personal time, Julia can be found in the outdoors either skiing or climbing, or at home relaxing and painting.



Niloufar Benam

Niloufar is an MSc student supervised by Dr. Julia Schmidt in the Collaborative Evidence: Developing Awareness and Research (CEDAR) Brain Injury Lab. This lab focuses on Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and its effects on individuals’ daily lives. There is a diverse range of research being completed at the CEDAR lab. Some include qualitative studies focusing on the experience of individuals and changes in their self-identity and self-awareness after TBI. There are also projects exploring different rehabilitation methods using virtual reality technology to improve outcomes after TBI.

Niloufar’s research focuses on brain activation patterns after TBI using functional near infra-red spectroscopy (fNIRS). This project aims to understand differences between brain activation patterns between individuals with TBI and healthy controls when completing an everyday activity like getting dressed. The portability of fNIRS allows for brain activation patterns to be studied during real-life tasks of dressing in the unconstrained and natural state as opposed to in neuroimaging tools such as fMRI that require individuals to remain in a supine position during imaging. +

When not working on projects in the lab, you can catch Niloufar painting, playing some ukulele, singing, and baking or cooking different types of cuisines. You might also find Niloufar wandering around the city on extra-long walks!


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Rehabilitation Sciences’ doctoral students, Christy Jones, Oladele Atoyebi, and Gordon Tao has been awarded a Four Year Doctoral Fellowship (4YF)

The Four Year Doctoral Fellowship program will ensure UBC’s best PhD students are provided with financial support of at least $18,000 per year plus tuition for a maximum of four years of their PhD studies or until the end of their 5th years, whichever comes first.

Rehabilitation Sciences’ master’s student, Jeanette Boily, featured in lead story in Research Insider, the newsletter of the VCH Research Institute










Relieving the pressure: easing pain for bed-bound patients

Rehabilitation Sciences’ Doctoral Candidates Awarded Prestigious Scholarships!

Congratulations to PhD candidates Laura Bulk and Lyndal Solomons, who was awarded the Margaret Hood Scholarship and a Jane Hudson Scholarship!

Also congratulations to Ryan Falck who has won the Louise McGregor Memorial Scholarship.

Rehabilitation Sciences’ doctoral student, Alessio Gallina, has been awarded the VCHRI Top Graduating Student Doctoral Award

This award is supported by Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (VCHRI). The award recognize outstanding contributions by VCHRI research trainees to research excellence, service as role models, and other contributions to the VCH research community.  Applicants must be PhD candidates graduating or submitting thesis between January 1st and December 31st 2018; their supervisory must be a VCHRI researcher.

Oladele Atoyebi receives award to attend ISG conference

Oladele Atoyebi, PhD candidate, receives a CIHR travel grant. Oladele will travel attend the ISG’s 11th World Conference of Gerontechnology (ISG) in St. Petersburg, Florida from May 7-11, 2018.  His award application was rated among the best due to the merit of the science, strength of his CV, and the letter of recommendation in support of his application.

PhD Candidate Bev Larssen and Master student Brianna Chau Awarded CIHR Doctoral and Masters Award!

PhD candidate Bev Larssen and Master student Brianna Chau was recently awarded the CIHR Fellowship. Congratulations to Bev and Brianna for their cutting-edge research!

Congratulations Laura!

Rehabilitation Sciences’ doctoral student, Laura Bulk, has been awarded a 3M National Student Fellowship. The award honours up to ten full-time university students at Canadian institutions who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in their lives and at their college or university. Each winner will receive an award of $5,000 to be spent at the winner’s discretion and will also participate in a 3M National Student Fellowship Program retreat.











Rehabilitation Sciences’ Doctoral Candidates Awarded Prestigious Scholarships!

Biofeedback-close-up1Congratulations to PhD candidates Stephanie Glegg, who was awarded the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, and Jennifer Ferris, who was awarded a CIHR scholarship!

PhD candidate takes a novel approach to rehabilitation for older adult amputees

Bita ImamRead more about Vanier scholar, Bita Imam.

Sue Peters receives award to attend FENS

Awards Sue Peters, PhD candidate, receives a Society for Neuroscience travel award.

PhD Candidate Emma Smith Awarded CIHR Fellowship!

emmaPhD candidate Emma Smith was recently awarded the CIHR Fellowship for her project CoPilot: Collaborative Powered mobility Innovative Learning Opportunity. Congratulations to Emma for her cutting-edge research!


Science in 60 Seconds

SSS_JKF_770Jennifer Ferris is an incoming PhD candidate in the Graduate Programs in Rehabilitation Sciences. Read more about her and Science in 60 Seconds.

PhD Student, Ed Giesbrecht, featured on CTV!

EdGiesbrecht_CTV Interview
Rehabilitation Sciences PhD Candidate, Ed Giesbrecht, was recently interviewed by CTV News Winnipeg regarding his mobility study with Dr. Bill Miller titled, EPIC WheelS or Enhancing Participation in the Community by improving Wheelchair Skills.

You can watch the CTV clip here. Great job, Ed!


Admissions are open for prospective MSc and PhD students. The deadline for September 2015 intake is January 15th. The deadline for January 2016 intake is June 15th. Please visit our website for instructions on how to apply the MSc and/or PhD programs.

The program looks forward to learning about you soon!


Lisa Simpson and Niousha Bolandzadeh Fasaie are winners of the Focus on Stroke Doctoral Awards

Congratulations to our doctoral students, Niousha Bolandzadeh Fasaie (supervisor, Assistant Professor Teresa Liu-Ambrose) and Lisa Simpson (supervisor, Professor Janice Eng) who received Focus on Stroke Awards. Congratulations also to two post-doctoral fellows, Michael Borich and Jodi Edwards who work in Associate Professor Lara Boyd’s laboratory. They both received Focus on Stroke Research Fellowships. Of the 14 national awards, our UBC Rehabilitation Sciences won 4 of them.



Jill Zwicker, our PhD graduate won the Pursuit Award

Congratulations to Jill Zwicker, one of our PhD graduates, who has won the Pursuit Award in Childhood Disability Health Research sponsored by the Bloorview Research Institute!

Each university in Canada could only nominate one recent PhD graduate so Jill already has the distinction of being the UBC nominee. Dr. Susan Harris and Dr. Lara Boyd, her co-supervisors wrote her letter of support and the OSOT was the nominating department. Jill’s doctoral thesis examined neural and behavioural correlates of motor performance in children with developmental coordination disorder. Jill is presently a Canadian Child Health Clinician Scholars doing a post-doctoral fellowship with Ruth Grunau and Steven Miller at Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.



Dr. Teresa Liu Ambrose’s research featured in The Vancouver Sun

Dr. Teresa Liu Ambrose’s research was featured in an article in The Vancouver Sun on April 23, 2012.

“Exercise programs, especially those involving resistance (weight) training, help stave off progression to dementia in older people already showing signs of cognitive impairment, local researchers have shown in a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The randomized, controlled study compared the effects of three different types of exercise, done twice weekly over six months, in 86 women between the age of 70 and 80.

The study compared walking (aerobic exercise), with balance, tone and stretch classes and resistance training to build muscle strength. The latter method produced the best results for memory and other cognition measurements.

All forms of exercise generally produced positive changes in the study, the first of its kind looking at types of exercise and its effect on attention, memory, problem solving and decision making. But resistance training fared best, possibly because it gets progressively harder as people increase weight resistance, so it benefits “multiple domains [in the brain] in those at risk for dementia,” the study posits.

“We can’t say resistance training exercise eradicates Alzheimer’s disease but it does show promise in delaying the onset. It improves brain function in the processes that are associated with aging and the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease,” said lead author Teresa Liu-Ambrose, a researcher with the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility at Vancouver General Hospital, Vancouver Coastal Health and the University of B.C. Brain Research Centre.

Read more:

MSc graduate accepts position for Northern and Rural Cohort for Department of Physcial Therapy

One of our MSc graduates, Robin Roots has accepted the position of Clinical Coordinator, Northern and Rural Cohort for the Department of Physical Therapy. Robin brings a wealth of experience and energy to the role. Robin has been working on contract with the MPT Clinical Education team since last year, and has been an integral part of the development of the Northern and Rural Cohort initiative. She first completed an Environmental Scan−Physical Therapy Clinical Education in Northern and Rural British Columbia−which updated the department with needed information about our clinical partners, clinical sites, and the current status of clinical education in northern and rural areas. Her role will include increasing the number of northern and rural placements available for all students, as well as planning and implementing activities for the Northern and Rural Cohort. She will also serve as the new contact person for questions about the clinical education program in northern and rural areas.

Robin is located in Prince George, at the UNBC campus. Congratulations Robin!


January 2012

Dr. W. Ben Mortenson, Clinical Assistant Professor, wins Age+ Prize from CIHR’s Institute of Aging
By Kate Keech on January 3, 2012
The CIHR-Institute of Aging Age+ Prize recognizes excellence in research on aging carried out by emerging Canadian scholars. Up to 15 awards are offered annually to meritorious authors of published, scientific articles on aging. The Age+ Prize is aimed at graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and residents from all disciplines, working in the field of aging.
Congratulations to Dr. W. Ben Mortenson for being a recent recipient of the CIHR-IA Age+ Prize for his article titled: “Grey spaces: The wheeled fields of residential care.” Dr. Mortenson graduated from our Rehabilitation Sciences PhD program in 2009, under the supervision of Professor Bill Miller, with his thesis exploring the impact of wheelchairs on individuals in residential care. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the SFU Gerontology Research Centre and University of Montreal and is a clinical assistant professor within our department.
This winning paper is available as an early-on-line publication in Sociology of Health & Illness and was completed in collaboration with Dr. John Oliffe in the School of Nursing at UBC and with our own Professors Bill Miller and Catherine Backman.

November 2011

Congratulations to our November graduates! Many thanks to Andrea Walus, Mary Clark and Sue Stanton for organizing a delightful graduate reception at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club on Thursday, November 24, 2011.
For a full account of the evening please go to…
Rehabilitation Sciences Graduation Reception November 2011
Dr. Lyn Jongbloed and Dr. Rick Celebrini, our November PhD graduate, celebrate his achievement.



PhD Graduate

Dr. Richard George Celebrini: “Dr. Celebrini demonstrated the effects of a novel movement strategy in reducinging risk factors for knee injuries in young female soccer players. This research provides a practical contribution to knee injury prevention programs in young female athletes.” (November 2011)

Sarah Neil, Jeanie Zabukovec and Sandra Hale- MSC Graduates for November 2011

 MSc Graduates

Sandra Hale
Thesis Title: Employment Experiences of People with Bipolar Disorder
Sarah Elizabeth Neil
Thesis Title: Cardiorespiratory and Neuromuscular Deconditioning in Fatigued and Non-Fatigued Breast Cancer Survivors
Jeanie R. Zabukovec
Thesis Title: Does Primary Motor Cortex Plasticity Parallel Adaptive Modification to Human Walking?

October 2011

Can Breastfeeding Reduce Pain in Preterm Infants?
By Kate Keech on October 20, 2011
Results of Dr. Liisa Holsti’s research aimed at answering this very question will be featured in the upcoming issue of PAIN…
Philadelphia, PA, October 19, 2011 – Poorly managed pain in the neonatal intensive care unit has serious short- and long-term consequences, causing physiological and behavioral instability in preterm infants and long-term changes in their pain sensitivity, stress arousal systems, and developing brains. In a study published in the November issue of PAIN®, researchers report that breastfeeding during minor procedures mitigated pain in preterm neonates with mature breastfeeding behaviors.
Currently, pain associated with minor procedures such as pricking for blood tests is managed with interventions such as skin-to-skin contact, pacifiers, and sweet tastes, but these produce only modest and/or inconsistent relief. In normal term-born infants, breastfeeding during painful procedures has been shown to reduce pain response by 80-90% and has no serious side effects, but this approach had not previously been tested in preterm infants. One concern is that preterm infants might come to associate breastfeeding with the painful procedure, jeopardizing their ability to feed effectively enough to adequately gain weight.
In a randomized clinical trial, investigators from the Child & Family Research Institute at BC Children’s Hospital and The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, conducted a study to learn if preterm infants would show lower pain scores when breastfed during blood collection. They also looked at whether breastfeeding during the painful procedure would have a negative impact on the development of breastfeeding skills, and whether infants who had more mature breastfeeding behaviors would have lower pain scores and heart rates during blood collection than less experienced feeders.
Fifty-seven infants born at 30 to 36 weeks gestational age were divided into two groups. One group was breastfed during blood collection. The other group was given a pacifier. During the procedure, their faces and hands were videotaped, their responses were scored using the Behavioral Indicators of Infant Pain, and their heart rates were measured. Breastfed babies were also scored according to the Premature Infant Breastfeeding Behaviors scale.
For the group as a whole, breastfeeding did not reduce either behavioral or physiological pain during blood collection. Nevertheless, no immediate adverse effects were found on breastfeeding skill development. “Our sample of infants was assessed early in their breastfeeding experience; none of our infants were fully established on breastfeeds,” says lead investigator Liisa Holsti, PhD, Clinician Scientist at the Child & Family Research Institute; Assistant Professor, Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, University of British Columbia; and a Canada Research Chair in Neonatal Health and Development. “For infants whose breastfeeding skills are inconsistent, it is unlikely to mitigate pain effectively.”
In the breastfed group, however, infants who were more advanced in their ability to feed did have significantly lower behavioral pain scores. Despite concerns that blood sampling during breastfeeding may be more difficult, the authors report that the time taken for the procedure in the breastfed group was significantly shorter, making blood collection more efficient.
“Finding creative ways to apply breastfeeding for pain mitigation in premature infants is important, because recent research suggests that sweetening agents used to reduce minor procedural pain may act as sedatives rather than analgesics, and they may have negative effects on development,” says Professor Holsti. “Our findings support further research on the effects of breastfeeding for more mature feeders over repeated events to assess both the short- and long-term benefits of the treatment.”
The article is “Does breastfeeding reduce acute procedural pain in preterm infants in the neonatal intensive care unit? A randomized clinical trial,” by Liisa Holsti, Timothy F. Oberlander, and Rollin Brant (DOI: 10.1016/j.pain.2011.07.022). It will appear in PAIN®, Volume 152, Issue 11 (November 2011) published by Elsevier.</p<

September 2011

Congratulations to MSc graduate, Helia Sillem! Helia graduated from the program in November 2009. She is the recipient of the First Time Writer’s Award from the Journal of Hand Therapy. Her manuscript, based on her MSc thesis is entitled “Comparison of Two Carpometacarpal Stabilizing Splints for Individuals with Thumb Osteoarthritis.” The award will be presented in September 2012 at the annual ASHT (American Society of Hand Therapist) conference. Congratulations to Associate Professor Linda Li who was quoted in September 29th in the Vancouver Sun on preventing arthritis in baby-boomers, written by John Esdaile & Cheryl Koehn.

August 2011

Professor Teresa Liu-Ambrose in is the New York Times!
The Aging, Mobility and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of British Columbia and other institutions have shown, for the first time, that light-duty weight training changes how well older women think and how blood flows within their brains. After 12 months of lifting weights twice a week, the women performed significantly better on tests of mental processing ability than a control group of women who completed a balance and toning program, while functional M.R.I. scans showed that portions of the brain that control such thinking were considerably more active in the weight trainers.
“We’re not trying to show that lifting weights is better than aerobic-style activity” for staving off cognitive decline, said Teresa Liu-Ambrose, an assistant professor at the university and study leader. “But it does appear to be a viable option, and if people enjoy it, as our participants did, and stick with it,” then more of us might be able, potentially, to ameliorate mental decline well into late life.

May 2011

Dr Lyn Jongbloed, MSc graduates: Karen Sauve, Meghan Linsdell and Alanna Simms. (Robin Roots absent)

MSC Grads

 Meghan Ashley Linsdell
Thesis Title:Continuous theta burst stimulation, combined with skilled motor practice after stroke: effects on implicit learning and electroneurophysiology.
Robin Katharine Roots
Thesis Title: Understanding Rural Rehabilitation Practice: Perspectives of OTs and PTs in British Columbia.
 Karen A. Sauve
Thesis Title: Exploring Factors Associated with Readiness to Change During the Acquisition of Motor Abilities in Young Children with Cerebral Palsy 
Alanna M. Simms
Thesis Title: A Novel Theory-based Implementation Intervention to Increase Prescription of Inspiratory Muscle Training for People with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Dr Lyn Jongbloed, Dr. Paula Rushton and Dr. Bubblepreet Randhawa- May 2011

PhD Grads Citations

Dr. Paula W. Rushton: “Dr. Rushton developed WheelCon-M, a test to assess people’s confidence in using a manual wheelchair. She conducted a four-phase, multi-site, mixed-methods study to develop and validate this new measure. WheelCon-M will be used clinically to identify individuals who would benefit from targeted interventions to improve their confidence with wheelchair use.” (May 2011)

January 2011

2011 is starting off well for three of our PhD students who have won COTF Scholarships.

Shalini Lal won a COTF Doctoral Scholarship. Ed Giesbrecht won the COTF Thelma Cardwell Scholarship. And Debbie Field won the prestigious COTF Blake Medical Distribution Doctoral Scholarship. Congratulations to them all!

Dec 2010

Teresa Liu-Ambrose research on senior’s strength training hits the Front Page of the Vancouver Sun!
“A new study by Vancouver area health professionals suggests that seniors who take part in strength-building exercise regimes can reap cognitive and other health benefits, in some cases for years after the exercises have stopped…”

Read more: