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Students/Faculty News Stephen Lanzi August 11, 2023

Headshot of Laurie MaloneDr. Laurie Malone will continue the pursuit of her research passions, focusing on her longstanding interest in physical activity for underserved populations and more recently the use of scent detection dogs, in her new role as faculty in the School of Health Professions.

Malone was recently appointed associate professor in the UAB Department of Occupational Therapy, allowing her to continue her long-standing work with the NIDILRR-funded Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Recreational Technologies, RERC RecTech, and expand into other areas of research.

“I’ve been doing research with colleagues in SHP for a number of years, both in OT and PT, and I am excited about the opportunity to move into a faculty position and further expand along those lines of research,” she said.

Malone’s primary academic background is in exercise science, having a life-long interest in the power of movement and physical activity. During her studies, she became driven by the desire to bring physical activity to new populations.

“I took a class ‘disability and physical activity’ or something along those lines, and I thought, ‘My gosh,’ and it became clear that I wanted to make physical activity possible for everyone. I wanted everyone to experience the joy of movement.”

So, Malone pursued a doctorate in exercise science with a specialization in biomechanics and adapted physical activity at the University of Alberta, where her mentor was the President of the International Paralympic Committee. She went on to obtain a position bringing research, program evaluation, and sport science to Lakeshore Foundation before focusing her work with RecTech.

“My longstanding passion has been research and disability, getting people physically active and involved in sports,” Malone said.

But, as is often the case in the world of academia, personal interests paved the way for a new line of research for Malone.

“I had a little pet dog Penny who was terrified of the world,” Malone said. “Penny was rescued from a puppy mill where she had lived in a chicken coop for four years as a breeding mother. Literally terrified of everything.”

Then, Malone got involved in scent training for dogs, which taps into a dog’s inherent instincts to hunt. Looking for a way to help engage her little dog, “I thought, okay, will Penny engage in this since it’s her natural drive?”

Throughout the process of training dogs and helping desensitize her own, Malone became fascinated with the potential of dogs’ powerful scent capabilities. “Then, I came across dogs sniffing for cancer, and I thought, ‘Oh,…’” Malone said with a sly smile.

Malone started a non-profit and continued her involvement in scent work and eventual research as a side hobby and recently published a peer-reviewed article on some of their work.

“This has always been my after-hours thing, so when I leave work, I’m going to that quote ‘job’” Malone said. “So, now the research aspect of that I can bring into my daytime hours in the OT department.” Malone sees great potential for use of scent dogs in cancer screenings among underserved populations. Just last year Malone obtained an MPH degree from UAB to support her work in this area.

In preliminary studies, dogs have been found to be upward of 95% accurate in screening for various cancers, higher than some clinical tests, according to Malone. This can be an effective method of detecting cancer early on, especially for rural parts of the country where access to healthcare is limited and transportation to clinics can be difficult.

“Some of the activities like this that have been my side projects while I’ve been focusing on RecTech can be back in my portfolio,” Malone said. With new opportunities and great colleagues Malone is looking forward to a bright future as a faculty member in the OT department.

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