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Source: University of Canterbury

28 July 2022

It’s something we often take for granted – the ability to drink a glass of water or enjoy a meal with friends or family. Consider those notable life events – birthdays with decadent cakes, champagne celebrations and indulgent holiday feasts. But what if you couldn’t swallow? What if illness or injury took away these simple, and suddenly not so simple, pleasures?

  • In her free livestreamed public talk, Hard to swallow – retraining the brain, UC expert Distinguished Professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee will explore the seemingly simple task of swallowing.

A renowned expert at the University of Canterbury Distinguished Professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee says the inability to swallow is often unseen but it’s not uncommon due to a wide range of medical conditions, including stroke and Parkinson’s disease.

“Swallowing requires the precise orchestration of 32 paired muscles, controlled by seven nerves and multiple brain regions – all in about 800 milliseconds,” Distinguished Professor Huckabee says.

“But how can you change a what most people would consider a reflex? We used to think you couldn’t however, our recent research is proving quite the opposite.” 

On Wednesday 3 August at 7pm, in her Tauhere UC Connect public lecture, Hard to swallow – retraining the brain, Distinguished Professor Huckabee will take you on the remarkable journey of this seemingly simple task, from infant swallowing to adult; and then from impairment to recovery.

She will explore the remarkable capacity of the brain to modify this most complex of motor behaviours and will explore new UC-developed rehabilitation approaches, retraining the brain in how to swallow. 

About the speaker

Distinguished Professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee practiced as a clinical speech language pathologist for 15 years before the frustration of never knowing ‘The Answers’ led her to an academic career. She is now the Founder and Director of the University of Canterbury Rose Centre for Stroke Recovery and Research and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychology, Speech and Hearing at UC in Christchurch, New Zealand. She says she is still seeking ‘The Answers’ with research focusing on the complexities of behaviourally driven neural adaptation and biomechanical change leading to swallowing recovery following neurological injury. In her 20-year academic career, Professor Huckabee has co-authored three books, one in its 3rd edition, 15 book chapters and has published 105 peer-reviewed scientific papers.

A recent research programme resulted in a regional reduction in pneumonia rates from 27% to 10%, with subsequent savings in healthcare costs for the health system of over $1.4 million in one year. For this research, she was awarded one of the top research medals from the University of Canterbury – The Innovation Medal, was a finalist for the NZ Women of Influence Award in Science and Innovation, and nominated for New Zealander of the Year in the Innovation category. In 2021, in recognition of her commitment to translational research she received the Royal Society Te Apārangi MacDiarmid Medal.

Professor Huckabee is committed to translational science to move research discoveries into routine clinical practice.  She recently founded Swallowing Technologies Ltd, a commercial enterprise to translate laboratory-developed technology to clinical care. She is well known as a clinical teacher and is an invited speaker by health systems worldwide to provide clinical training, particularly in rehabilitation practices.

  • Tauhere UC Connect public lecture: Hard to swallow – retraining the brain Presented by Distinguished Professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee, Department of Psychology, Speech and Hearing, Pūtaiao | Science, Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury, 7pm – 8pm, Wednesday 3 August 2022, in C1 Central Lecture Theatres, Ilam, Christchurch. Register to attend free at: Tauhere UC Connect public talks are also livestreamed on the UC Facebook page.

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