Each of us possesses an intuitive representation of what it means to drive a car in a busy street of the city centre, to catch a ball in a crowded playground, or simply to get dressed while maintaining proper balance. Although these actions appear effortless, they rely upon a complex chain of operations from sensory through motor signals and this is not yet understood. Moreover, when one or many brain areas involved in these operations are severely perturbed, after a stroke for instance, these complex cognitive operations are disorganized leading to important motor handicaps with a strong impact on the quality of life. Recent technological developments allow investigating human movement control in naturalistic environments using virtual reality displays and robotic devices in both healthy volunteers and patients. These technologies pave the way for a better transfer of knowledge from fundamental to clinical research in order to design more effective and faster rehabilitation protocols.
The PACE research and training programme sits at the interface between basic science, technology and clinics, in order to unveil how humans control and adapt their movements in complex, naturalistic environments.
Such a research agenda has major consequences for understanding how these movements are impacted by specific brain insults and how these impairments can be compensated for via new rehabilitation methods. Improving rehabilitation programmes for sensory and motor disabilities across the lifespan is a major societal challenge in Western countries and many obstacles need to be overcome. New technologies, such as robotics or virtual reality, offer exciting opportunities in the perspective to transfer state-of-the-art knowledge from basic research on sensorimotor transformation into the clinical domain. PACE will also promote the transfer of innovative, human-centered technologies between laboratories and clinical units, which is crucial to modernise and rationalise Health Care systems. To meet the societal challenge of European aging societies, it is crucial to train a new generation of researchers in a programme such as PACE where fundamental and applied/clinical research are effectively integrated via collaborative research, doctoral secondments and theoretical courses – in other words, one in which clinicians, neuroscientists, theoreticians and engineers can contribute around a well-defined problem: how humans acquire, lose and recover movement performance.
PACE programme will contribute to train a new generation of scientists aware of the emerging needs and challenges of aging European societies, as well as of the importance of better integrate people with disabilities.
The PACE programme includes:
- 16 PhD fellowships with a duration of 36 months, starting in Autumn 2015
- Opportunities for PACE fellows’ mobility through secondments at partner institutions
- A training programme open to non-PACE fellows from the different host institutions
With over 50 researchers spread across 10 full and 5 associated partners, from academia and the private sector, established in 7 different European and Associated countries, the PACE network gathers a broad range of expertise from experimental psychology, cognitive neurosciences, brain imaging, technology and clinical sciences.
Cristiana was a young brilliant scientist and a good friend of several of us. She has been one of the first researchers to respond enthusiastically to the first attempt to build up an international collaborative network working on Perception and Action in Complex Environments.
After the initial failure to obtain the EU grant for the PACE ITN-network she was there again, with all her energy to support a new application, to which she has contributed with new original ideas for the research project. In this occasion, Cristiana has also pushed forward a stronger commitment of her team in Durham, first with the co-responsibility with Jason Connolly in the challenging brain-imaging project of Alessia Cacace.
She has also critically contributed to the success of the second round application by introducing to us the professional team that provides now to PACE the largest part of the training in transferable skills.
In 2014 Cristiana has shared with us the joy of the news that the PACE project was funded. But at that time she was already struggling against brain cancer and for this reason could not to take part in person to any of our Network meetings.
Cristiana Cavina-Pratesi, Principal Investigator of the partner Durham University has passed away on August 1st, 2016.