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Leah Bent

Associate Professor

University of Guelph

Human Health & Nutritional Sciences, Food, Nutrition and Health

My path into academia began in the third year of my Human Kinetics undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph. It was here, during an upper-level neurophysiology course that I became interested in the area of posture and balance control. I was introduced to the concept of spinal reflex loops, central pattern generators and the importance of sensory input in the modulation of how we move. I was intrigued by the extent of our knowledge of how we balance and accommodate as bipedal beings, and how sensory decline can greatly affect successful task achievement. This led me to complete my Masters at the University of Guelph with Drs. Jim Potvin and Bill McIlory, examining the potential for a subcortical substrate for postural control by investigating balance adjustments during reflexive stepping in humans.

My continued interest in postural control got me thinking about the sensory contributors involved in these balance adjustments. As a result, during my  Ph.D. with Drs. Tim Inglis and Brad McFadyen I examined vestibular contributions to locomotor tasks, including the integration of vestibular information with other sensory input. Although I felt I was slowly unravelling the puzzle, determining underlying neurophysiological connections using whole body analysis of behaving humans was challenging. My goal during my post-doctoral fellowship was to learn a technique called microneurography. I acquired these skills under the supervision of  Dr.  Vaughan Macefield in Sydney Australia. Microneurography is a relatively new, and powerful tool used to record from single nerve fibres involved in the transfer of sensory information from the periphery to the spinal cord.

I have set up a microneurography laboratory here at Guelph where I will continue to investigate neural connections between peripheral sensory receptors (skin, muscle, joint) and 1) pathways to the brain, and 2) synapses that generate reflexes responses in muscle. The long-term objective of the work is to identify key sensory interactions in the spinal cord that facilitate balance and locomotion. Ultimately, by testing sensory contributions and interactions, my research program will take steps toward understanding where and how posture is controlled.