New Year Message from MRRI Director Dylan Edwards, PhD

2023 is off to a fantastic start at MRRI. The level of productivity and vibrancy is delightful to observe, as our scientists uncover new results and tackle complex scientific theories and clinical problems. Most notable and rewarding is the in-person teamwork evident at Elkins Park after a prolonged period of mostly remote work. The energy and creativity that comes from in-person interactions with our clinical collaborators, research participants, and administrative support colleagues is truly invaluable to our work.

Last year was filled with great accomplishments, demonstrating our team’s enduring commitment to cutting-edge and clinically-relevant science. You can read more about our recent activities in our latest Annual Report. We have an exciting year ahead with many opportunities, and no doubt challenges that we will overcome together. This year, we will continue to make progress on various research projects spanning the translational continuum, disseminate our research locally, nationally, and internationally, and continue to provide exceptional training to early-career scientists. We are excited to see what 2023 has in store. Wishing all a happy and productive year.


Dylan J. Edwards


Where Are They Now: TBI Research Participant Amy Curran Shares Her Story

The Moss TBI Model System (TBIMS) recently caught up with Amy Curran, a MossRehab patient and research participant who sustained a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2013 resulting from a fall down icy stairs. Amy has participated in multiple research studies in the Brain Injury Neuropsychology Laboratory, including a study of a novel behavioral treatment for emotional problems after TBI, and a project developing a new mobile health technology to help people with TBI better follow-through with plans and achieve the goals.

Since her injury, Amy has taken time to learn to take care of herself and become as independent as possible. The clinical care that Amy received at MossRehab and research that she has participated in at MRRI have helped her on that journey. Before her injury, Amy taught middle school children with special needs, and she is now retired on disability. She currently volunteers for the Neuromuscular Disease Foundation, a non-profit agency whose mission is to improve the lives of individuals with GNE myopathy, an adult-onset disorder caused by mutations in the GNE gene. Amy has GNE myopathy herself, and she works as a patient advocate project manager. In this role, she connects with individuals with this rare disease, helps them to find resources, and assists with a support group. Amy participates in a speaker series for the foundation as well. She feels that her years as a teacher helped to prepare her for this role.

In addition, Amy is an accomplished artist. She is a photographer and has always enjoyed painting, and she is now using instructional books to teach herself to draw. In 2020, Amy won a Rare Artist Award for an acrylic abstract painting in a contest for artists with rare diseases. When asked about what inspires her, Amy said “The road to recovery with a TBI isn’t easy or short, but I found focusing on what matters most to me, my true passions, helped guide my journey and made me feel what was impossible, the healing, possible.”

The MossRehab TBI Model System is dedicated to providing state-of-the-art research and potentially lifelong treatments for persons with TBI and their families. MRRI and MossRehab are honored to be able to work with patients like Amy to help them achieve their rehabilitation goals and continue advancing our understanding of TBI recovery and outcomes.

This article was adapted from an article originally published in The MossRehab Traumatic Brain Injury Model System’s Fall 2022 Edition of Brain E-News.

MRRI Welcomes Colleen Kealey McCall

This month, Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) is excited to welcome Colleen Kealey McCall, M.A., CCC-SLP, as she begins a new position working as a speech-language pathologist in the Speech and Language Recovery Laboratory and the Language and Learning Laboratory.

Ms. McCall brings a wealth of clinical experience and expertise to her new role. She worked for about 11 years for Jefferson Health’s Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, and she has been a speech pathologist with MossRehab since 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Villanova University and a master’s degree in Communication Sciences from Temple University.

In the Speech and Language Recovery Laboratory led by Marja-Liisa Mailend, PhD, Ms. McCall will play a central role in all ongoing research projects, particularly a project examining speech entrainment (a form of synchronous speech) as a potential treatment approach in people with aphasia. Ms. McCall will evaluate language and cognitive function in research participants, run experiments, transcribe data, and code data.

She will also concurrently work on research projects in the Language and Learning laboratory directed by Erica Middleton, PhD. In this position, Ms. McCall will play fundamental roles in many projects, including providing her clinical expertise regarding diagnosis of cognitive and language disorders, helping design experimental tasks appropriate for people with aphasia, and helping process and organize data.

The team at MRRI is looking forward to working with Ms. McCall!

Now Available: New Edition of the MossRehab TBI Model System’s Brain E-News

The latest edition of Brain E-News features news and updates from The MossRehab Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Model System. In this edition, clinicians and scientists from MossRehab and Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) share exciting news about the recent renewal of the grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) which supports the TBI Model System. The team also provides an update on an ongoing research study examining chronic pain after TBI. Also in this edition, TBI Model System participant Amy Curran shares details from her journey of recovery after a brain injury that occurred nearly ten years ago.

Click here to read the full Fall 2022 Edition of Brain E-News.

Research Assistant Emma Stern Joins MRRI

Emma Stern

Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) is conducting groundbreaking research in neuroscience and neurorehabilitation, and this is made possible by the efforts and dedication of our exceptional team of scientists and staff. MRRI is thrilled to welcome Emma Stern to the Institute as one of our newest Research Assistants.

Ms. Stern will be working with Institute Scientist Amanda Rabinowitz, PhD, in the Brain Injury Neuropsychology Laboratory. Ms. Stern recently graduated from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst where she received a degree in Psychology on the Neuroscience Track and a letter of specialization in Developmental Disabilities and Human Services.

As an undergraduate student, Ms. Stern held many different roles. She served as a mental health counselor in a group home for men with mental health challenges, a neuropsychology research intern at the Integrated Center for Child Development studying self-regulation and fluid reasoning in children with intellectual disabilities, a teaching assistant for International Disability Rights, and a research assistant in the Moorman Lab on campus studying the motivation of mice to interact with a novel touchscreen system.

Before accepting her position at MRRI, Ms. Stern spent the summer in Colorado as an intern at the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center. There, she facilitated overnight and day programs to bring outdoor activities to those with cognitive and physical disabilities including, but not limited to, traumatic brain injury (TBI), autism, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, hemiplegia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and Down syndrome.

In her current role, Ms. Stern looks forward to contributing to the Traumatic Brain Injury Model System study as an inpatient recruiter and Form 1 data collector, in addition to various other studies serving the TBI population.

MRRI Celebrates Three Decades of Excellence in Research

Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) was founded in 1992, and the Institute’s scientists and staff are excited to celebrate a landmark 30th anniversary this year. This video goes behind the scenes at MRRI to highlight some of MRRI’s key achievements and the talented researchers and staff here who have made important contributions to the fields of neuroscience and neurorehabilitation. The Institute looks forward to continuing its track record of excellence in the areas of cognitive neuroscience and cognitive rehabilitation, traumatic brain injury treatments and outcomes, and movement science and mobility rehabilitation for many years to come.

30 Years of MRRI: A Look at the Institute’s Founding and History

Celebrating 30 Years of MRRI

Over the past three decades, research at Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) has changed clinical practice in neurorehabilitation, advanced our understanding of the relationships between brain structure and function, and eased the burden of disease from neurological conditions worldwide. As the Institute celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, it is exciting to reflect on how MRRI came to be and its many accomplishments.

In the 1960s and 1970s, MossRehab had a substantial research portfolio in collaboration with Temple and Drexel Universities as part of a Rehabilitation Engineering Center supported by the National Institute of Handicap Research. However, research funding at MossRehab declined in the 1980s. At that time, Nathaniel Mayer, MD, Director of the Drucker Brain Injury Center, met Myrna Schwartz, PhD. Dr. Schwartz, a cognitive neuropsychologist, spent time at Moss learning about rehabilitation in a clinical setting and the real-world clinical problems experienced by patients with stroke and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

She accepted a research position at the hospital in 1986, and she began studying the many errors in everyday actions that patients with brain injury exhibit. Within a few years, Drs. Mayer and Schwartz, along with Steve Braverman (then Director of Development at Moss), developed a plan to create a research institute at MossRehab with the goal of building a larger research program. Mr. Braverman secured the initial support for the Institute from former MossRehab CEO Sy Schlossman and the Board of the Hospital.

Drs. Mayer and Schwartz were keen to further build their team of talented rehabilitation researchers, and John Whyte, MD, PhD, was recruited to Moss in 1989. Dr. Whyte had completed his PhD under the supervision of Dr. Schwartz, and he had gone on to receive medical residency training in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, specializing in TBI. Upon accepting a position at MossRehab, Dr. Whyte began developing his own independent research program and serving as an attending physician in the hospital.

Drs. Whyte and Schwartz were appointed as Director and Associate Director, respectively of MRRI in 1991. They developed a strategic plan proposing research programs in cognitive neuroscience/cognitive rehabilitation; movement science/mobility rehabilitation; and rehabilitation outcomes and quality. In developing their business plan in consultation with directors of other research institutes, they identified a need for philanthropic support to cover the anticipated expenses. The MossRehab Board identified research as essential to the institutional mission, and the Board voted in 1992 to approve the proposed plan and begin fundraising. Thus, the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute was officially established.

MossRehab underwent a merger with Einstein Medical Center to become the Einstein Healthcare Network shortly afterwards. To ensure the future of the new research institute, funds were earmarked for MRRI from donations to support MossRehab and MRRI.

Over the next several years, promising early-career researchers in the MossRehab community were mentored and subsequently hired for permanent research positions. These included Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD, who received a postdoctoral fellowship to train with Dr. Schwartz, and Tessa Hart, PhD, who came to Moss to work in a clinical role at the Drucker Brain Injury Center. Dr. Buxbaum went on to be hired as an Institute Scientist and now serves as MRRI’s Associate Director. Dr. Hart served as Principal Investigator of the MossRehab Traumatic Brain Injury Model System from 2002 to 2018, and she is now an Institute Scientist Emerita. These scientists, along with Drs. Whyte and Schwartz were instrumental in establishing MRRI’s reputation as a leader in translational research in the field of neurorehabilitation.

MRRI continued to recruit highly qualified scientists in the area of cognition and psychology, but there was a gap to be filled in the area of movement science. In 2003, Drs. Whyte and Schwartz began advocating for enlarging the endowment to recruit a critical mass of movement scientists. With the support of Barry Freedman (former CEO of Einstein Healthcare Network), Ruth Lefton (MossRehab COO) and Alberto Esquenazi, MD (Chairman of PM&R at Einstein Healthcare Network), and the Development Office, funds were secured to begin recruiting movement scientists. Drs. Schwartz and Dr. Whyte transitioned to Institute Scientists Emeriti status in 2016 and 2018, respectively.

Dr. Buxbaum assumed the role of Associate Director in 2016. In 2018, Dylan Edwards, PhD, joined MRRI as Director, and the Institute continues to grow and make important contributions to translational neurorehabilitation research. MRRI is proud of its many achievements, including:

The Institute currently has ten laboratories and programs, and MRRI scientists have exceptional track records of research funding from NIH, other government grant programs, foundations, and other sources. The bridge between contemporary clinical practice at MossRehab (ranked among the nation’s best by U.S. News and World Report for the past 29 years) and the ground-breaking translational research continues to be a key strength at MRRI and serves to attract clinicians working at MossRehab as collaborators. In 2021, Einstein Healthcare Network and Jefferson Health finalized a merger that brought these two outstanding organizations together and provided even more opportunities for MRRI to grow and continue its legacy of research excellence.

MRRI Welcomes Two New Research Assistants

Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) is excited to welcome Shauna Zodrow and Brandon Knight to our team of talented researchers! Both Ms. Zodrow and Mr. Knight have recently begun their new positions as Research Assistants at MRRI.

Mr. Knight is working full time in the Cognition and Action Laboratory under the direction of Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD. He will be contributing to important research examining arm non-use after stroke, and he will also be working on a study investigating phantom limb pain. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from Howard University in spring of this year, and prior to starting at MRRI, Mr. Knight interned in the Motivated Cognition and Aging Brain Lab at Duke University, focusing on decision-making and motivation across the lifespan. His current research interests revolve around the cognitive science of sleep, dreaming, memory, attention, and the creative arts, as well as using knowledge of the brain to improve our wellbeing and how we interact with the material and social world.

Ms. Zodrow is splitting her time between the Cognition and Action Laboratory with Dr. Buxbaum and the Speech and Language Recovery Laboratory directed by Marja-Liisa Mailend, PhD. She will work alongside Mr. Knight on the ongoing project on arm non-use, and she will also work with Dr. Mailend on a study of speech entrainment in individuals with aphasia (an acquired communication disorder) after stroke. Before joining MRRI, Ms. Zodrow received her Bachelor of Science degree from Drexel University in 2021. She had previous research experience within the Drexel Neuroimaging Lab for approximately three years of her college career. Ms. Zodrow had the privilege of presenting former research at the International Neuroscience Society (INS) conference in Denver, CO in 2020. She received the Alumni Award from Drexel University for her Poster on Neural Activation Patterns Predictive of Emotional State and their Resting-State Connectivity in 2020. After graduating from Drexel University, for approximately nine months, Ms. Zodrow assisted individuals experiencing a wide array of neural deficits as a Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapist at Neurorestorative.

During their time at MRRI both Ms. Zodrow and Mr. Knight will be immersed in a vibrant research environment where they will learn valuable research skills and receive mentorship from the outstanding scientists at our Institute.

Drs. Middleton and Mailend Receive Albert Einstein Society Research Grant

Approximately 795,000 people have a stroke each year in America alone. Of these individuals, about one-third (over 270,000) experience chronic aphasia. Aphasia is an acquired disorder that affects spoken and written language, and it is estimated that between 2.5 and 4 million Americans are living with aphasia today. Communication impairments in aphasia often impact an individual’s ability to perform their usual roles at home and may prevent them from returning to work.

Difficulty retrieving words for everyday, familiar objects is common in aphasia, and it makes it very difficult for people with aphasia to communicate effectively. People with aphasia may retrieve the wrong word  (e.g., “orange” instead of “apple”), or they may not be able to retrieve a word at all when asked to name a familiar object. During storytelling or other forms of connected speech, deficits in word retrieval may manifest as pauses, production of the wrong word, and reliance on descriptive phrases to compensate for failed word retrieval. These can make communication inefficient and cause frustration for both the speaker and the listener.

MRRI Institute Scientists Erica Middleton, PhD, and Marja-Liisa, PhD, have recently been awarded a research grant from the Albert Einstein Society of Einstein Healthcare Network to further study a potentially more efficient approach to treating this difficulty retrieving words in aphasia.

New evidence suggests that people with aphasia can improve their ability to retrieve words by practicing retrieving names for objects from long-term memory. Treatment by practicing retrieving names of familiar objects (retrieval practice naming treatment) has been shown to provide greater and more lasting benefits in word retrieval than a common treatment approach called errorless learning. In errorless learning, an individual is given the correct name of an object along with an image representing the object, and they repeat the name.

In their new research study, Drs. Middleton (Principal Investigator) and Mailend (Co-Investigator) will examine whether the effects of training individual words with their retrieval practice naming treatment approach may generalize to improvements in the retrieval of other words or in the production of connected speech in people with aphasia. Such effects will be contrasted with possible benefits from errorless learning. This work has important future applications for optimizing clinical treatment in people with aphasia to provide the most efficient and effective care for patients.

Dr. Erica Middleton Serves as an Academy of Aphasia Mentor

Receiving support and guidance from a mentor can be transformative for early-career scientists. MRRI Institute Scientist Erica Middleton, PhD, knows firsthand the value and the importance of mentorship in science. “I’ve had so many very important people in my life. I started conducting psychological research as an undergraduate, and I had the great fortune to be mentored by a number of remarkable people at all stages,”  remarks Dr. Middleton. During her postdoctoral fellowship at MRRI, Dr. Middleton worked under the primary supervision of Myrna Schwartz, PhD, who is now an Institute Scientist Emeritus.

“I always looked up to Myrna because she is an excellent theoretician and methodologist, but she always had such a strong sense of how to drive towards answering a clinical question,” Dr. Middleton said. During her postdoctoral fellowship, Dr. Schwartz taught Dr. Middleton how to do translational research and how to apply her knowledge from graduate school to advance research to the point of being able to help people in their everyday lives. These early mentorship experiences left a lasting impression on Dr. Middleton, and she has been committed to paying it forward by serving as a mentor to early-career scientists both within and outside of MRRI.

As a member of The Academy of Aphasia, Dr. Middleton learned about the professional society’s R13 conference grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. This grant brings together aphasia researchers and scientific experts and innovators from a wide variety of other scientific disciplines to help advance aphasia research. This year, the grant also sponsored twenty-seven Academy of Aphasia Young Investigator Fellows to attend the conference and present their research. When Dr. Middleton heard about this opportunity, she was excited to sign up to serve as a mentor.

During the conference, the Young Investigator Fellows were paired with mentors with overlapping research interests who provided focused mentoring and training. The Young Investigator Fellows also interacted with their mentors during a dedicated lunch session and a “Meet the Experts” session.

Reflecting back on her experience with the program, Dr. Middleton commented “As I was advising my mentee, I kept thinking to myself that a lot of the advice I was giving came from me because of the mistakes I’d made, and that I was happy that the difficulties I went through now have some use in the form of valuable advice. We all struggle as scientists, and there’s no training program that can teach you everything to prepare for the various stages of an academic career. I think mentorship venues like these are an excellent way to transfer real-world, impactful knowledge and strategies to the next generation of researchers.”