October 2020 Updates on MRRI Scientists’ Presentations

October was a busy and productive month for MRRI scientists. In addition to receiving three new grant awards from the Albert Einstein Society, our researchers presented oral and poster presentations at seven different national and international virtual conferences.

MRRI Director Dylan Edwards, PhD, presented a virtual seminar on combinatorial approaches in robotic rehabilitation at the World Congress for NeuroRehabilitation, and also served on a panel on biases in research and research funding at the American Medical Rehabilitation Providers Association Educational Virtual Conference and Expo.

Work on cognitive planning for action imitation from the laboratory of MRRI Associate Director Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD, was presented at the Neuromatch 3.0 online conference. In addition, new findings from Dr. Buxbaum’s group on audiovisual comprehension in people with aphasia was presented at the virtual meeting of the Society for the Neurobiology of Language.

Erica Middleton, PhD, served as an author on a poster presentation at the Society for the Neurobiology of Language that shared their recent data on the neural bases of conceptual combination in people with aphasia after stroke. Dr. Middleton also presented a poster at the virtual meeting of the Academy of Aphasia on how distributed practice and criterion level affect word retrieval in people with aphasia.

John Whyte, MD, PhD, participated in a variety of events at the recent American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine (ACRM) virtual conference. He co-led a half-day course on the Rehabilitation Treatment Specification System (RTSS) and presented a symposium on how to use the RTSS to improve research design and the clinical implementation of research. Dr. Whyte also spoke about improving access to sleep apnea diagnosis for people with acute traumatic brain injury to maximize the outcomes of neurorehabilitation. In addition, he served as a panelist for the Women in Rehabilitation Science Symposium.

At the ACRM conference, MRRI Institute Scientist Umesh Venkatesan, PhD, presented research from his lab that examined the associations between the duration of post-traumatic amnesia and memory impairment in people with chronic moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injury. We are proud to announce that Dr. Venkatesan’s poster was chosen to receive the Brain Injury Interdisciplinary Special Interest Group Early Career Poster Award.

Amanda Rabinowitz, PhD, also spoke at ACRM as part of a symposium on best practice interventions for managing acutely confused patients during inpatient rehabilitation.

These virtual conferences provided valuable opportunities for MRRI scientists to share their work, hear more about studies conducted by researchers from around the world, generate new ideas, and reconnect with collaborators and colleagues.


MRRI Scientists Awarded Grants to Support Innovative Research Projects in Neurorehabilitation

MossRehab Research Institute  Senior Scientists Umesh Venkatesan, PhD, and Shailesh Kantak, PhD, PT, as well as NIH T32 Postdoctoral Fellow Erica Barhorst-Cates, PhD, recently received research grants from the Albert Einstein Society of Einstein Healthcare Network.  These research programs will help advance MRRI’s mission to improve the lives of individuals with neurological disabilities with new clinical treatments.

Discovering the Relationship of Childhood Experiences to Brain Trauma Injuries

Dr. Venkatesan, director of the Brain Trauma and Behavior Lab, will investigate the relationship of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) to behavioral health in adults with moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). ACEs such as physical and psychological abuse are associated with many negative health effects such as increased risks for sustaining a TBI among the general adult population. Accounting for earlier life experiences may prove important in prognosis and treatment planning for individuals after TBI.

Findings from Dr. Venkatesan’s work will serve as the foundation for a research program further evaluating how health status after injury reflects early social conditions that “set the tone” for life. Results will help build a framework for treatment that integrates experiential variables with less-modifiable factors (e.g., demographics, injury severity) to personalize interventions and mitigate treatment barriers for optimized recovery. Learn more about the Brain Trauma and Behavior Lab at MRRI.

Using Virtual Reality to Determine Arm Preference After Stroke

Dr. Kantak, who directs the Neuroplasticity and Motor Behavior Lab, will collaborate with Cognition and Action Lab Director Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD, to examine how cognitive mechanisms of attention and effort influence arm choice and performance of 3-D reaching movements after stroke. The team will systematically manipulate cognitive effort by altering task difficulty and introducing a dual-task as participants reach to touch specified targets in a virtual reality (VR) environment.

Based on results, Dr. Kantak will determine if data supports the idea that under high-cognitive effort conditions, stroke patients will choose their less affected arm more frequently compared to low-cognitive effort conditions. Research also will determine if arm choice, as assessed in the VR environment, predicts actual preference in the real world using accelerometry. In addition, the team will explore how brain representation of the more affected arm relative to the less unaffected arm relates to the frequency of arm choice after stroke. This study will set the stage for future investigations to quantitatively assess and treat arm nonuse after stroke. Click here to learn more about VR research at MRRI.

Assessing Navigation Difficulties with Stroke Victims

Dr. Barhorst-Cates, NIH T32 postdoctoral fellow, along with Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD, and Cognitive-Motor Learning Lab director Aaron Wong PhD, will study spatial navigation deficits in stroke patients. While approximately 30% of stroke victims report difficulties with moving about and remembering important locations and routes, patients rarely are assessed for navigation difficulties in a rehabilitation setting.

The researchers will test the navigation abilities of stroke patients as well as neurotypical individuals in a real-world environment. Tests will measure both movement (walking and balance) and cognitive abilities (memory and attention) of participants. The researchers will assess the relationship of these abilities to navigation as well as how lesion location in the brain affects performance. This project will offer a greater understanding of navigation deficits following stroke and the characteristics of individuals who might have difficulties with spatial navigation.  Click here to learn more about MRRI’s NIH T32 training program.


Combining Conventional and Innovative Rehab Techniques at the Human Motor Recovery Laboratory

Understanding the impairments in motor function that humans with neurological damage experience following a brain injury or spinal cord injury could give scientists insight into opportunities to improve conventional rehabilitation treatment options and help develop more informed rehabilitation treatment strategies.

At the Human Motor Recovery Laboratory, researchers use contemporary techniques including non-invasive brain stimulation, neuroimaging, kinematics, and virtual reality, along with conventional rehabilitation therapies, to study and promote the motor recovery process.

Led by Director of MRRI Dylan Edwards, PhD, the laboratory is dedicated to finding the right combination of approaches to optimize the motor recovery process, while making it a more engaging and enjoyable experience for patients.

In this video, Dr. Edwards describes the different motor function restoration strategies used at the Human Motor Recovery Laboratory in its mission to make a difference in patients’ lives.

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Sleep Apnea After TBI

Sleep apnea is a disorder that involves brief periods of not breathing when the individual enters deeper sleep stages. When breathing stops, the individual becomes short of oxygen and partially wakes up again, which causes them to resume breathing. However, these respiratory events disrupt deep sleep throughout the night, and this can cause daytime drowsiness, cognitive impairment, auto and work-related accidents, and increased blood pressure and risk of stroke and heart attack.

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NIH Funding Renewed for MRRI Postdoctoral Training Program

Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) has been awarded a 5-year renewal on its NIH-funded training grant entitled, “Postdoctoral Training in Translational Neurorehabilitation Research.” The grant is directed by John Whyte, MD, PhD, co-founder and former director of MRRI.

This is the only rehabilitation-focused institutional training program currently funded by the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research (NCMRR). The program offers mentored research training to individuals who have recently completed their PhD or MD degrees and wish to pursue careers in research that focus on understanding and treating cognitive and motor impairments that result from neurologic injury or disease. Continue Reading





Dylan Edwards to Present at Stroke Symposium

MRRI Director Dylan Edwards, PT, PhD, will give a presentation titled Non-invasive Brain Stimulation in Stroke Recovery at the University of Alabama Birmingham School of Medicine Stroke Symposium.

The talk, on October 5th, will explore the use of transcranial direct current stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation alone and in combination with behavioral treatment in the motor domain. Continue Reading