Interview with a Researcher – Lauren Tabor-Gray, PhD, CCC-SLP

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Please give a brief background:  (Employment, interests of study, special honors/certifications etc.)

My name is Lauren Tabor-Gray and I am a clinical scientist at the Phil Smith Neuroscience Institute at Holy Cross Health in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I co-direct our multidisciplinary ALS Clinic Center ofThat Sounds Amazing GIFs | Tenor Excellence and serve as a principal investigator on our ALS clinical trials. My current research focuses on characterizing impairments in sensorimotor cough function, and airway defense and clearance in individuals with ALS. The mission of my research is to develop novel treatment strategies to target the underlying physiologic impairments in airway clearance in an effort to mitigate decline and prolong oral intake and quality of life. 

If you could conduct any research study on any topic/issue (meaning money/funding, time, subjects, IRB, etc. are NOT a problem!), what would it be? In other words, what’s your dream study?!

What a world that would be! One of the most important aspects of research to me is the clinically feasibility and application portion. Our research designs can be complicated, but the big take-home message needs to be tangible in the real world. With that in mind, this dream study would be a dysphagia treatment study with a randomized, sham-controlled, cross-over design (so all patients receive treatment at some point regardless of initial group allocation), AND the treatment would yield highly effective results based on each participants underlying pathophysiology…now we just have to find the right treatments!😊  

If you could change one thing about having to do research, what would it be?

I love the creativity, critical thinking, logistical challenges, and execution of sound research, but there is a lot of red tape. Ideally, I would have less red tape.✂️🔖

What’s one thing you think clinicians should be excited about in our field regarding research?

Sometimes research is conducted in a silo, which inhibits progress in a lot of ways. More recently, dysphagia research has been more multi/interdisciplinary in nature with a focus on proactive management. Our studies now involve SLPs, respiratory therapists, pulmonologists and neurologists in addition to the research team—so much expertise! This is an exciting avenue and involves a lot of great minds thinking together, ultimately expediting findings and clinical relevance. 

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What’s one thing you think researchers should be excited about in our field regarding clinical practice?

Similar to the above answer, our research is now focusing on more proactive dysphagia management versus reactive dysphagia treatment. We now have a breadth of evidence supporting the fact that bulbar functions including swallowing and airway clearance abilities deteriorate in neurodegenerative disease, post-radiation and with aging, etc. This provides the clinical rationale to intervene early in the disease process to optimize therapeutic swallowing outcomes. Although we are not going to stop progressive dysphagia and dystussia, we can provide treatment and education earlier in the disease process to make an impact on comorbidities, quality of life, and survivorship.🙌🙌

I feel the Results section of studies can be the most misunderstood or difficult to navigate through, what tidbits or tips/tricks can you share to help clinicians process these sections?

I agree–the results are tricky. The results are meant to display the statistical outcomes with data alone, with no interpretation. However, it’s important to start with the methods because if they are not sound, the results do not matter!🤷‍♀️ The methods and statistical analysis should be explained well enough to be reproducible by an outside group in a future study. Once you’ve established that the methods are appropriate, the discussion should help to explain and interpret the results section of the manuscript (i.e., why do these results matter and what are the implications?).🤓 

Could you pick one technical jargon (e.g. “linear regression” “ANOVA” “two-tailed test” etc.)  to explain in a relatable and easily understandable way (real-life, simple examples get bonus points😉)?

Correlations are among the most commonly presented statistics, but they can be easily misinterpreted🙃. The Pearson product-moment correlation (r) tells us the magnitude and direction of the relationship between 2 continuous variables.

It’s important to pay attention to the statistical significance (p-value), but equally as important to note the r-value, which indicates the magnitude of the relationship (r >0.5 = large/strong correlation). Additionally, reporting of these results should not indicate causation🤓. The following statement is misleading based on the results of a correlation: “An increase in time to complete laryngeal vestibule closure led to an increase in the severity of penetration aspiration scale scores.” These predictive statements require more advanced analysis, like a linear regression. 

What’s the ONE thing you think is important for practicing clinicians to know/understand when reading research?

A lot of low-quality research (i.e., poor methodology, overstated conclusions/interpretation of results) gets published, so it is important to stay highly critical of research to uphold the scientific process. Unfortunately, we can’t assume reported results are accurate and generalizable just because they are published🤯. One tip: pay close attention to the type of journal the manuscript is published in, as they have different levels of rigor.😮

What’s ONE thing you think is important for researchers to know/understand about clinical practice?
Clinical feasibility is paramount. As researchers, we often have access to tools and instruments that help to objectively measure, characterize, diagnose, all of which are very important. However, for many reasons (time, money, resources), these tools are not commercially available and thus fall into the crevice between the research and clinical worlds. This requires hard work and perseverance on behalf of the researchers (to identify surrogate tools that can be implemented clinically) and clinicians (to advocate for the use of said tools). 

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What is something you believe researchers could do better to #bridgethegap?
Ensuring our work is accessible by publishing in open-access journals, posting preprints to ResearchGate or open-source sites, and maintaining open communication with clinicians.👍👍

What is something you believe clinicians could do better to #bridgethegap?
Open the lines of communication: if you have a research idea and want to collaborate, if you need access to an article, have questions about a protocol or exercise regimen, etc., email us!!😃

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Can you provide your contact email if clinicians want to reach out? (Honors system for everyone to be respectful of your time)

Thank you to Dr. Lauren Tabor-Gray for taking the time to share this very helpful info!!

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