Year End Message from MRRI Director Dr. Dylan Edwards

Dr. Edwards's headshot
Dylan Edwards, PhD

As we reflect on the achievements of 2020, at the forefront was maintaining a cohesive, supportive, and productive workplace amidst the pandemic and sociopolitical events that substantially impacted the Philadelphia region, United States, and world. MRRI stood true to its mission, publishing high quality scientific findings in translational neurorehabilitation, adapting existing programs and developing new programs, and continuing to provide first-rate training of tomorrow’s independent scientists. You are encouraged to explore this year’s Annual Report, where we provide in-depth updates, including our latest research publications, presentations, and grants. It is important for me to recognize and appreciate the talent, resilience, and commitment of the entire MRRI community. Our core staff, affiliates, clinical counterparts, and research participants have all stepped up to overcome the various challenges of 2020 together. Our collegial interpersonal relationships, rich and diverse expertise, and strong administrative support help make MRRI the leading scientific organization it is.

Well done, MRRI. Wishing all a safe and relaxing holiday, and a prosperous 2021.


Dylan J. Edwards, PhD
Director, Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute

Year End Updates from MRRI

As 2020 comes to a close, we are excited to be working on our annual MRRI Letters newsletter that will shareupdates and highlights from the past year. Join our email list to receive a copy of MRRI Letters in early 2021.

MRRI team members also are looking forward to celebrating the holidays remotely together during our annual holiday party scheduled virtually this year on December 13th.

Even as the year winds down, our scientists continue to be highly productive in publishing and disseminating their research. Just last month, MRRI scientists had four papers accepted for publication or published in peer-reviewed journals. In addition, MRRI researchers participated in virtual presentations and poster sessions at the International Symposium on Neuromodulation, the Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, and the Specialization Course in Neurophysiology and Neuromodulation at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. Locally, MRRI Director Dylan Edwards, PhD, presented his work on recovery of voluntary motor function in chronic spinal cord injury as part of the MossRehab Shrier Topics in Rehabilitation Science Lecture Series.

We also published four new articles in the MRRI Blog last month including a story on  one of our dedicated stroke research participants, an interview with former MRRI postdoc Marja-Liisa Mailend, and an update on Dylan Edwards’s role as collaborator on an NIH-Funded grant to establish The National Center of Neuromodulation for Rehabilitation at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Further, we are pleased to announce that MRRI Associate Director Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD, was appointed to the Program Committee of the American Society of Neurorehabilitation (ASNR). In this role, Dr. Buxbaum will work with other leading rehabilitation researchers to oversee the scientific program and assist with preparations for the ASNR’s Annual Meeting in 2021.

In the coming weeks, we look forward to continuing our progress on ongoing research projects as well as taking time over the upcoming holidays to re-energize in preparation for the new year ahead.

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.

View Now

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.

Continue Reading

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