Patrick Whelan

Dr. Patrick Whelan




Faculty of Veterinary Medicine


Cumming School of Medicine, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology


Cumming School of Medicine, Department of Clinical Neurosciences


Faculty of Kinesiology

Full Member

Hotchkiss Brain Institute

Child Health & Wellness Researcher

Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute

Associate Member

McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health

Contact information

Web presence

Phone number

Office: +1 (403) 220-4210


Office: HMRB168
Lab: HSC2068

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Research partners


Educational Background

Doctor of Philosophy Neuroscience, University of Alberta, 1996

Neuroscience Neuroscience, University of Alberta, 1996

Science Biological Science, University of Guelph, 1990


Dr. Patrick Whelan obtained his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Alberta in 1996, followed by postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He commenced his tenure at the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine in 2000, later expanding his role to the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in 2005. Presently, he holds joint appointments in both the Cumming School of Medicine and the Faculty of Kinesiology, serving as the Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs and Development within the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Whelan's research is distinguished by several key discoveries in the domain of locomotion control. His current research endeavors are dedicated to pinpointing novel therapeutic targets aimed at the rehabilitation of motor functions in individuals with Parkinson's and spinal cord injuries.


Areas of Research

Overall Activities

Our research endeavours are deeply embedded in exploring movement disorders, with a specialized focus on deciphering the mechanisms that enable locomotion. This journey places a significant emphasis on spinal cord injuries, viewing them not merely as isolated incidents but as critical components of movement disorders. Our mission is dedicated to unlocking the secrets of how we walk, underscoring the importance of our investigations for conditions like spinal cord injuries and Parkinson's Disease. We recognize the power of rehabilitation in fostering plasticity within the neural pathways of the spinal cord and brain, driving our interest in the anatomy and functionality of these vital circuits. In pursuit of this, we are pioneering methods to stimulate these areas, notably through deep brain stimulation techniques, optogenetics and non-invasive approaches.

We foster a collaborative spirit, working closely with Dr. Zelma Kiss from the field of Clinical Neurosciences, Dr. Murari from the realm of Engineering, and Alex McGirr from the Clinical Neurosciences. Together, we identify gait rehabilitation and initiation challenges as significant indicators of brain dysfunction, which profoundly diminish the life quality of affected individuals. Our vision is to forge new therapeutic interventions that promise to improve recovery outcomes for those grappling with spinal cord injuries and Parkinson’s Disease. 

As integral members of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, we contribute to the Movement Disorders and the Spinal Cord, Nerve Injury and Pain groups, and the RESTORE network. Our association with AHCRI allows us to incorporate our interest in neonatal motor function. Our overarching aim is to lead the development of therapeutics that markedly enhance the recovery of individuals suffering from these debilitating conditions, thus elevating their quality of life. The Whelan lab is funded by CIHR, NSERC, and Chair funds from the Frank Leblanc Chair in Spinal Cord Injury Research. We are always interested in hearing from people interested in joining our lab. 


Parkinson's Disease

Between 1990 and 2015, the incidence of Parkinson's Disease has seen a doubling. Given the global trend towards an aging population, projections suggest that the number of individuals impacted by this condition could more than double once again by 2040. The progressive deterioration of functional gait is highlighted by patients as one of the disease's most impairing aspects, significantly affecting both their psychological well-being and physical capabilities. The impairment often manifests as a shuffling gait, characterized by the individual taking small, shuffled steps. In our current research proposal, we aim to address this issue by delving into the role of a parallel dopaminergic pathway that plays a critical part in gait control. Preliminary evidence suggests that this pathway remains intact in Parkinson's Disease patients. Our objective is to explore whether modulating this pathway's activity might alleviate some gait-related symptoms. Our methodology begins with a comprehensive examination of this pathway's normal functions and its brain connectivity. By gaining insight into the operational mechanisms of this pathway from both a behavioral and mechanistic standpoint, we aim to uncover the compensatory neural plasticity that unfolds throughout Parkinson's Disease progression.

Spinal Cord Injury

Additionally, our research extends into the realm of spinal cord injuries, with a keen focus on the descending control of movement—a pivotal aspect for devising strategies to restore function. We have conducted in-depth studies on the functionality of the spinal cord in neonates, particularly in the context of locomotion. These studies offer valuable insights into developmental disorders that impair movement, such as cerebral palsy. Over the years, our investigations have employed a diverse array of approaches to examine the neuromodulation of circuits. This multifaceted research strategy not only enhances our understanding of spinal cord dynamics but also paves the way for innovative treatments aimed at mitigating the impact of movement disorders. 

Participation in university strategic initiatives


Course number Course title Semester
BMEN 61931 LEC 04 04 Spec Problems in BMEN 2021
MDSC 50765 LAB 03 B03 Spec Prob in Medical Science 2021
MDSC 50765 LEC 03 03 Spec Prob in Medical Science 2020
VETM 321 LEC 01 01 Physiology 2008 onwards
VETM 300 Clinical Presentations 2008 onwards
VETM 506 Investigative Veterinary Medicine and Science Communication Winter 2024


  • Great Supervisor Award, The University of Calgary. 2016
  • UCVM Research Excellence Award, The University of Calgary. 2016
  • Students Union Teaching Award, The University of Calgary. 2013
  • Senior Scholar, Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. 2007
  • Killam Trust - Faculty Research Prize, 2011
  • Heart and Stroke New Investigator, 2002

In the News

  • New findings in how animals move. UToday. (2024)