College of Health and Human Performance

Celebrating David Vaillancourt, Orchid Chair in Applied Physiology & Kinesiology

Celebrating David Vaillancourt, Orchid Chair in Applied Physiology & Kinesiology

David Vaillancourt at the installation ceremony on February 29, 2024. Photo by Brianne Lehan.

by Bridgette Welch

March 14, 2024

On February 29, the University of Florida community and distinguished guests celebrated the induction of David Vaillancourt, Ph.D., as the Orchid Chair in Applied Physiology & Kinesiology (APK). The ceremony, hosted at the College of Health & Human Performance, acknowledged Dr. Vaillancourt's exceptional contributions to the field, specifically within the realm of Parkinson's disease research.

The ceremony started with acknowledgments from Michael Reid, Ph.D., dean. He expressed gratitude to various individuals instrumental in making the event a success, highlighting the collaborative efforts that underpin the success of this academic achievement. Reid welcomed guests and expressed his pride in the accomplishments of Dr. Vaillancourt and the prestige of an endowed professorship. Reid explained the rarity of an endowed professorship and the journey scholars undertake to reach such a pinnacle in academia. 

In the introduction, Stephen Coombes, Ph.D., associate professor in APK and a fellow principal investigator with Vailancourt in the Laboratory for Rehabilitation Neuroscience, highlighted Vaillancourt’s extensive career, his work and its impact. 

During his lecture, Dr. Vaillancourt expressed his gratitude for the honor and shared personal insights into his motivations, specifically highlighting the influence of his wife and three daughters as a driving force behind his scientific pursuits. He also recognized the invaluable contributions of his laboratory team, emphasizing the collaborative spirit that fueled their research endeavors.

The lecture delved into Dr. Vaillancourt's groundbreaking research in Parkinson's disease. His early focus on the substantia nigra, a region crucial in Parkinson's pathology, led to the development of a novel imaging technique—the first MRI-based progression marker for the disease. The presentation showcased the evolution of his work, incorporating animal models and exploring the link between synuclein, inflammation and changes in brain diffusion. Dr. Vaillancourt discussed the application of machine learning in differentiating between various forms of Parkinsonism. The lecture detailed a significant study involving a large, diverse dataset from multiple standards and vendors. The promising results demonstrated over 90% accuracy in differentially diagnosing Parkinson's disease from other pathologies, opening avenues for more accurate and early diagnoses.

Left: Michael Okun, MD, director at the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases, takes a photo. Right: David Vaillancourt gives his lecture.

Left: Michael Okun, MD, director at the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases, takes a photo. Right: David Vaillancourt gives his lecture. Photos by Brianne Lehan. View/download all photos.

He then shared his journey of translating academic discoveries into tangible benefits for patients. The formation of a company, neuropacs, marked a crucial step in commercializing diagnostic software for Parkinsonism. Dr. Vaillancourt outlined the development process and highlighted the ongoing efforts to seek FDA approval and biomarker qualification.

He also revealed two future projects close to his heart. The first involves studying biomarkers before Parkinson's disease diagnosis, focusing on at-risk cohorts. The second centers on his deep interest in Alzheimer's disease and dementia, contributing to a collaborative effort in the Florida Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

To commemorate the occasion, Dean Reid presented Dr. Vaillancourt with a medal, expressing appreciation for his contributions. Attendees were invited to a reception celebrating Vaillancourt and his accomplishments.

The ceremony and lecture was live streamed and available to watch online.

The endowment of faculty positions at the University of Florida's College of Health & Human Performance plays a crucial role in attracting top talent and enhancing the institution's reputation. One additional ceremony celebrating Thomas Clanton, Ph.D., as the BK and Betty Stevens Professor in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology is scheduled for April 25. (See details.)

View photos from the event on Facebook, or download and view all photos.

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