June 1, 2022 | Erin Bluvas, firstname.lastname@example.org
While many of us find our vocations by trial and error, Lynsey Keator’s path has been anything but meandering. Inspired by the successful treatment of her younger brother’s phonological disorder, the Massachusetts native has been working toward a career in communication sciences and disorders (COMD) since high school.
After completing two bachelor’s degrees (cognitive science; Spanish studies) at the University of Delaware and a master’s in communication disorders from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Keator went to work for one of the greats. Argye Hillis’s Stroke Cognitive Outcomes Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University was the perfect setting for Keator to gain clinical experience as a speech-language pathologist and learn more about stroke and aphasia research.
This work also led to Keator’s introduction to another giant in the field, COMD professor (and recently named UofSC Vice President for the Office of Research) Julius Fridriksson. As director of the Center for the Study of Aphasia Recovery (C-STAR) and the Aphasia Lab, Fridriksson also served as Keator’s advisor when she enrolled in the COMD department’s doctoral program in 2018.
Not only has Keator become a key contributor to C-STAR’s novel approaches to treat aphasia through noninvasive brain stimulation, she has been an integral part in developing the team’s comprehensive approach to treatment. Members of C-STAR and the Aphasia Lab have created community outreach programs, including a monthly lunch event for socialization (with a tablet loaner program to stay connected during the pandemic), education for members of the hospitality industry and a drama program. Coupled with the lab’s cutting-edge treatments and customized speech-language therapy sessions, this holistic approach may very well revolutionize aphasia recovery.
With support from a New Century Scholars Doctoral Fellowship from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and a Ph.D. Scholarship from the Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders, Keator is assessing the success of noninvasive brain stimulation with her dissertation project. Her pilot study examines the effects of one type of noninvasive brain stimulation, transcranial alternating current stimulation, when combined with behavior speech and language therapy for stroke survivors.
“My dissertation research is a proof-of-concept study that, for the first time, explores the use of transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) as an adjuvant for behavioral speech and language therapy,” Keator says. “Preliminary results suggest that this type of stimulation, when paired with therapy, may improve fluency for individuals living with nonfluent aphasia. Furthermore, this research informs how external modulation may facilitate neural plasticity in stroke survivors. Initial results suggest further investigations of tACS are not futile and are groundbreaking for understanding aphasia and its treatment.”
Currently in her fourth year of the doctoral program, Keator plans to graduate later this year. After completing additional training through a research fellowship, she will pursue a career like her mentor’s, researching ways to advance stroke and aphasia research while preparing future scientists and clinicians to take that work even further.
In addition to her dissertation scholarships, Keator is the recipient of the UofSC Graduate Breakthrough Scholar Award, Academy of Neurologic Communication Disorders and Sciences Fellowship, Elaine M. Frank Endowed Fellowship, and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Fellowship for the Research Symposium in Clinical Aphasiology. She is a member of UofSC’s Graduate Civic Scholars Program, has received funding from the Support to Promote Advancement of Research and Creativity (SPARC) program and has published more than a dozen peer-reviewed journal articles (with several more in preparation).
“Lynsey Keator’s previous clinical and research experiences, as well as her current work at the University of South Carolina as a doctoral student in the Aphasia Lab, are a testament to her invested interest in science as well as her motivation and aptitude, which contribute to her productivity as a doctoral student,” says Fridriksson. “She exemplifies effective leadership skills by leading a variety of research projects related to clinical outcomes and novel research related to neuroimaging methodologies.”