OHSU speech pathologist and neuroscientist recognized by ASHFoundation

Allison Schaser and Emily Quinn

OHSU researchers are advancing speech and communication science in disciplines ranging from speech pathology to neuroscience and in disorders that begin early in life to late-onset diseases.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation awarded New Investigators Research Grants to Allison Schaser, Ph.D., C.C.C.-S.L.P., postdoctoral fellow, Jungers Center for Neurosciences Research (above left), and Emily Quinn, Ph.D., C.C.C.-S.L.P., instructor, Institute on Development and Disability (above right).

Language and communication growth in children with Down syndrome

A speech-language pathologist, Quinn’s research has focused on methods for supporting language and communication growth in children experiencing impairments or delays in spoken language. She received the grant for her project “Delivering Enhanced Milieu Teaching to children with Down syndrome via telepractice.”

Quinn has examined expressive communication skills, and methods for addressing them, in children with neurodevelopmental disabilities including Down syndrome, autism, and Angelman Syndrome, a rare neurodevelopmental genetic disorder with symptoms including severe speech impairment. Those methods have included augmentative and alternative communication — forms of communication other than oral speech. Her research extends to developing effective approaches to training parents to use language support methods.

The goal of Quinn’s ASHFoundation-funded study is to examine whether a telepractice approach is effective for training parents to use language support strategies and whether changes in parent behavior lead to language and communication growth for children with Down syndrome.

Progressive vocal communication deficits in Parkinson’s disease

Schaser’s research examines an underlying cause of voice and language impairments specific to Parkinson’s disease — α-synuclein. Her project is “Alpha-synuclein aggregate pathology in the vocal communication system in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease.”

The neuronal protein α-synuclein is found mainly at the pre-synaptic terminal and is genetically linked to Parkinson’s disease risk. Aggregated α-synuclein is the main component of Lewy bodies, which are the pathological hallmark of Parkinson’s. The protein is a major therapeutic target in Parkinson’s disease and related late-onset neurodegenerative diseases. Its role in both health and disease is the focus of the Unni lab, Jungers Center for Neurosciences Research, where Schaser conducts research.

The award will support the next step of Schaser’s research — directly testing the mechanisms of α-synuclein pathology propagation in the vocal communication system.

The ultimate aim of Schaser’s research is to contribute to the development of treatments to halt or reverse the accumulation of abnormal α-synuclein that leads to progressive vocal communication deficits in Parkinson’s disease.