Dr. Carolyn Fleck-Prediger at her convocation on Nov. 20, 2019. Dr. Fleck-Prediger holds a PhD in neuroscience from the University of Alberta. Photo submitted

Ponoka resident earns PhD in neuroscience

Carolyn Fleck- Prediger will continue work with patients with brain injury

A local speech-language pathologist, who has worked at the Halvar Jonson Centre for Brain Injury (a part of the Centennial Centre) for over 25 years, has gone above and beyond, earning a PhD in neuroscience and entering new and exciting avenues of research to improve patient care.

Carolyn Fleck-Prediger earned her PhD from the University of Alberta, crossing the stage on Nov. 20, 2019.

She loved her job, but wanted to challenge herself and improve clinical service to people with moderate to severe brain injury, making the decision to head back to school in 2012, studying the field of neuroscience in the Faculty of Medicine at the U of A.

While it has been very rewarding, it’s been a difficult journey.

“It was a long-haul, but it was worth it,” said Fleck-Prediger.

Fleck-Prediger earned honours in the program and published several articles which culminated into a 206-page doctoral thesis entitled, “Auditory and visual event-related potentials as brain vital signs.”

Fleck Prediger says she “aced” her final defence examination in June, 2019, and her PhD status became official at the convocation in November.

It’s rare to have a fully unanimous passing grade, but Fleck-Prediger did it for both her candidacy and her thesis defence.

There was a panel of eight evaluators for her thesis defence, and it was a “gruelling” three-hour process, she says.

“It was daunting but very rewarding.”

Her clinical background helped her immensely in her PhD studies, as she drew on her experience and had already been very involved in academics and keeping up with best practices.

During her journey through graduate studies Fleck-Prediger worked with leading scientists from across Canada to develop a portable device that detects, measures, and records brain activity after severe brain injury or stroke.

She participated in a national study with Dr. Ryan D’Arcy. With Fleck-Prediger’s experience at the Halvar Jonson Centre, D’Arcy thought she had a lot to offer clinically and invited her to join the study.

The study examined 28 patients and developed a visual scanner that looked for brain responsiveness. A previous model was auditory-based, which caused language barrier issues.

READ MORE: Ponoka doctoral candidate finding what makes the brain click

The visual scanner presented familiar and unfamiliar images of faces and places to index the amount of conscious processing.

In patients who are either non-responsive or minimally responsive, the scanner can help detect brain waves indicative of processing, even when the patient is unable to move or speak.

The device is undergoing further testing to ensure it’s accurate and consistent, and is not yet in clinical use for people with disorders of conscious processing.

“It’s very important that it’s valid.”

A sister device, a portable bedside scanner, is currently being developed by counterparts at Simon Fraser University. The research that the team Fleck-Prediger was part of completed will be utilized to develop more advanced versions of the scanner.

Fleck-Prediger plans to remain at the Halvar Jonson Centre for Brain Injury, continuing her work with patients, her understanding of neuroscience further enhancing and expanding her work and bringing her range of skills to the interdisciplinary team at the centre.

She has been a successful clinician for years, but with this advanced training, she can better validate and articulate those practices.

Her PhD also allows her to teach as an associate clinical professor and guest lecturer at the U of A and plans to do more teaching at the university in the future.

Fleck-Prediger’s made huge strides into the field of neuroscience, and she isn’t done yet.

She is also interested in the area of non-invasive brain stimulation and is curious to explore the affect of new technology on memory, depression, pain, and conscious awareness.

In the future, Fleck-Prediger may decide to pursue a post-graduate doctorate, but has no immediate plans.

Fleck-Prediger’s foray into neuroscience wouldn’t have been successful without the support she received from her family. She says her children were quite supportive of the undertaking as she balanced her studies and family life.

She also credits some of her success to the Ponoka Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 66, which awarded her a $15,000 scholarship in 2016, that was matched with a partnering grant from funding agency Mitacs, allowing her to complete her PhD work.

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