Amanda Rabinowitz, PhD, was a Guest Editor and Article Co-Author in Recent Journal Issue

Mobile health (mHealth) has tremendous potential to change the nature of health care worldwide, and different mHealth approaches are being explored for a wide variety of health conditions. Amanda Rabinowitz, PhD, is Director of the Brain Injury Neuropsychology Laboratory at Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI), and her work has been examining how mHealth technology can be used to improve outcomes for people following traumatic brain injury (TBI). Dr. Rabinowitz served as a guest editor for the latest issue of The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, a leading peer-reviewed journal focused on the clinical management and rehabilitation of people with TBI. The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation is the official academic journal of the Brain Injury Association of America.

As guest editor of this issue, Dr. Rabinowitz and Shannon Juengst, PhD, of UT Southwestern Medical Center worked to assemble a collection of articles from top scientists examining important areas of research related to the use of mHealth for TBI rehabilitation. Dr. Rabinowitz is lead author on one of the featured articles in this issue, and she is a co-author on another article. In the first article, Dr. Rabinowitz and colleagues describe their work developing and testing a chatbot (called RehaBot) that can communicate with users with TBI to provide reminders, encouragement, and supportive feedback. RehaBot is being designed to augment face-to-face therapy to reduce depression and increase participation in people with moderate-to-severe TBI.

In the second article, Dr. Rabinowitz and colleagues investigated the feasibility of remote collection of data on neurobehavioral symptoms and heart rate variability via a commercially available wearable device. Their work suggests this method of data collection is feasible, and heart rate variability has potential to be used as a physiological biomarker or neurobehavioral symptoms.

Through opportunities such as serving as guest editors for academic journals, MRRI scientists are continuing to lead and guide research in their respective fields with the ultimate goal of advancing neurorehabilitation treatments to improve the lives of patients.


New Edition of the MossRehab TBI Model System’s Brain E-News Released

The scientists, clinicians, and staff within The MossRehab Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Model System are excited to share news and updates in the Spring 2022 Edition of Brain E-News. This edition of the newsletter features an article about the ongoing Comparing Treatment Approaches to Promote Inpatient Rehabilitation Effectiveness for Traumatic Brain Injury (CARE4TBI) Study which is comparing different intervention approaches to help optimize care and outcomes for people with TBI. Also in this edition, the team shares the story of a MossRehab TBI Model System Member, provides information on a new Empowerment Group for people with TBI, features work being done as part of the Curing Coma Campaign, and gives an update on the Brain Injury Association of Pennsylvania’s Annual Conference coming up June 26 – 28, 2022.

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


Pioneering Research Led by Dr. Laurel Buxbaum Has Informed Knowledge of Tool Actions

Over the course of her career, Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD, has worked with collaborators and trainees to make substantial advances in our understanding of how the human brain allows us to successfully use tools and how these processes can become disrupted following stroke. Dr. Buxbaum is Associate Director of Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) and Director of the Cognition and Action Laboratory at MRRI. Research in Dr. Buxbaum’s lab has focused on how (and in which brain regions) tool-use information is learned, organized, activated, and selected.

Deficits in the ability to pantomime, imitate, and recognize tool actions occur in a neurological disorder known as limb apraxia. Apraxia may be present in people with a variety of neurological disorders, and it is most commonly studied in individuals who have experienced a stroke in the brain’s left hemisphere.

In 19821, Ungerlieder and Mishkin proposed that different kinds of visual information may be processed in two different pathways in the brain. This idea was further explored and refined over the years by Goodale and Milner2. The dorsal stream was observed to be relevant for visual information required for executing actions, such as reaching, grasping, and eye movements to visual targets. In contrast, the ventral stream was found to be important for visual information necessary for perception such as object recognition and semantic knowledge.

This initial model accounted for some of the symptoms and patterns observed in patients with apraxia post-stroke, but Dr. Buxbaum and others in the field found that this model wasn’t sufficient to describe the complexity of the behaviors observed in these patients.

Developing New Models to Account for Tool Use Deficits

In 20013, Dr. Buxbaum proposed a new functional neuroanatomic model that includes two action systems that are specialized for distinct aspects of tool actions: a bilateral dorso-dorsal network relevant for moving tools (the “Move Network”) and a left hemisphere ventro-dorsal network critical for tool use (the “Use Network”). The Move Network is specialized for actions to currently-viewed objects.  The information is short-lasting, and the network is responsible for processing information related to tool structure (size, shape, and orientation). In contrast, the Use Network is responsible for the representation of remembered trajectories and body postures necessary for learning the skilled use of tools and other manipulable objects.

Subsequent work in the Cognition and Action Laboratory has successfully tested and validated this proposed Two Action Systems model. Dr. Buxbaum and colleagues have demonstrated that tool use depends on the ventro-dorsal stream, and they have further identified that the posterior temporal lobe is an important repository for tool use knowledge and tool action semantics. In contrast, the inferior parietal lobe may be important for knowing how tool use actions are supposed to feel and for buffering the representations that are candidates for tool use actions prior to selection.

In individuals with apraxia, Dr. Buxbaum and colleagues have demonstrated that there is slower and weaker activation of took knowledge. This results in deficits in prediction and a dependence on visual feedback to complete tasks, such as imitating tool use. The impairments in activation of tool knowledge also lead to deficits in selecting task-relevant tool actions and resolving competition between tools with similar actions.

Dr. Buxbaum has also worked with collaborators to expand our understanding of the neural nodes and connections of the tool use network. Based on their data from neuroimaging studies, their Two Action Systems model was expanded to include two additional areas relevant for action selection4. This Two Action Systems Plus model further clarifies the brain regions that are likely involved in accumulating potential actions that could be executed and providing goal-relevant signals that may inform action selection.

Subtypes of Apraxia and Relevance for Rehabilitation

Different subtypes of apraxia have been identified based on lesion location and the impairments that result, and Dr. Buxbaum refers to these according to the underlying mechanisms that may be impacted. While individuals may demonstrate impairments that are considered hallmarks of more than one apraxia subtype, identifying underlying causes of different presentations of apraxia can aid in the identification of targeted rehabilitation approaches.

Preliminary work5 from the Cognition and Action Laboratory suggests that certain individuals may benefit from a treatment program that focuses on strengthening semantic associations between tool actions and other types of tool knowledge, while others may benefit from treatment programs that involve gesture training with repeated practice of actions. Dr. Buxbaum hopes to continue this line of research to improve treatment options for people with limb apraxia after left hemisphere stroke.


Funding Renewed for the Klein Family Parkinson’s Rehabilitation Center at MossRehab

Members of the Family Parkinson's Rehabilitation Center standing in front of the donor wall at MossRehab.

In 2019, the Klein Family Parkinson’s Rehabilitation Center at MossRehab was founded to support and enhance the lives of people living with Parkinson’s disease through innovative research combined with clinical care to advance and improve rehabilitative therapies. MRRI Institute Scientist Aaron Wong, PhD, and MossRehab physician Tariq Rajnarine, MD, serve as the scientific and clinical directors, respectively. This rehabilitation program seeks to drive progress by bridging the traditional silos of research and clinical care through real-time collaboration between clinicians, therapists, and researchers and by developing and supporting joint clinical-research programs. The Klein Parkinson’s Rehabilitation Center was made possible by generous support from the Klein Family, whose members have contributed to advances in research and innovation across Einstein Healthcare Network for five generations.

MRRI is pleased to announce that the Klein Family has recently agreed to renew funding for this innovative program for an additional five years. Since its inception, the Klein Parkinson’s Rehabilitation Center has developed a new database for patient volunteers interested in participating in research, providing opportunities for individuals with Parkinson’s disease to get involved with the cutting-edge research led by investigators at MRRI. This in turn has spurred increased research activity in the area of Parkinson’s Disease at MRRI. More recently, the Klein Parkinson’s Rehabilitation Center has become a resource for people with Parkinson’s disease by introducing a multidisciplinary clinic at MossRehab to provide holistic assessments and rehabilitation plans. Expanded clinical, research, and community outreach programs are actively being developed as part of this next funding cycle.

The researchers and clinicians at MRRI and MossRehab are thankful for the Klein Family’s continued support, and they look forward to further integrating pioneering research from MRRI with the exceptional rehabilitation services delivered by MossRehab to improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease.


Catching Up with Former MRRI Research Assistant Julie Wilson

Julie Wilson worked as a Research Assistant at the Brain Injury Neuropsychology Laboratory at Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) until 2021 when she enrolled in graduate school. During her time at MRRI, she worked under the mentorship of lab director Amanda Rabinowitz, PhD, and it was a pleasure to catch up with Julie to hear more about what she is doing now.

1) Can you tell us what you are doing now?

I am currently in the doctoral program in the Psychology Department at Lehigh University, with a focus on cognitive psychology.

2) Why did you choose this particular program?

I chose this program for a couple reasons. First, my research interests are closely aligned with those of Dr. Jessecae Marsh, my current advisor at Lehigh University. Dr. Marsh’s lab focuses on beliefs in relation to causal connections, and how those beliefs affect our categorization decisions. Here is a link to the lab webpage for more information: https://wordpress.lehigh.edu/ccrlab/. In addition, I had multiple interviews with Dr. Marsh before deciding to attend Lehigh University, and each of our interactions strongly suggested to me that we would work well together. Lastly, I had a location restriction since I own my home near Philadelphia, PA. I chose to look at schools that were up to a 2.5-hour drive away from home, and Lehigh University was a great fit for all of my needs.

3) What are your current research interests?

I am currently interested in the interrelationships between perception, belief, and decision-making. My first-year project involves evaluating peoples’ perceptions of their own knowledge about certain everyday devices (i.e., a toaster, can opener, etc.) before and after asking them to explain how the device works. Previous research has shown that people tend to initially overestimate their knowledge about certain causal mechanisms of these devices and that the act of physically attempting to explain how the device works causes most people to realize their intellectual miscalibration. In my study, my research aims to determine what elements within these freely-written explanations lead someone to reassess their knowledge. Specifically, what is it about someone’s explanation that either allows them to recognize their ignorance or to continue to maintain their false perception of understanding?

4) Why did you choose to work as a Research Assistant at MRRI?

I chose to work as a Research Assistant and MRRI because I was interested in both psychology and neuroscience, and I knew I wanted to work with people. I believed working at MRRI would allow me to gain the experience I needed before advancing my education in either psychology of neuroscience.

5) What was it like working in the Brain Injury Neuropsychology Laboratory at MRRI?

It was an honor and a pleasure to work in the Brain Injury Neuropsychology Lab at MRRI. It was easy to become friends with each of my colleagues and my mentors treated me with respect while pushing me to do my best. I loved working with our study participants and was so grateful to have made connections with patients and their families.

6) Is there something you learned at MRRI that has helped you in your current endeavors?

Working at MRRI taught me how to efficiently manage my time since I was often part of multiple research projects at once. I also helped to write and publish two peer-reviewed journal articles during my time at MRRI, and these experiences will definitely help me now that I am in graduate school and am beginning to lead my own research projects. Most importantly, I further developed my compassion for people in all walks of life and my ability to listen to someone’s story without judgment.

7) What is one of your favorite memories from your time working at MRRI?

I have many wonderful memories from working at MRRI! I loved the time spent talking with and getting to know my co-workers, both at MRRI and in the Brain Injury Unit. We even got to play with the therapy dog, Pender, once each month! However, my favorite aspect of my job at MRRI was spending time with our study participants. I really enjoyed listening to each of their unique stories and how their brain injury had changed their perspective on life. I was very lucky to have met each and every one of them.

8) What is something that you are really excited about or looking forward to in your current role?

In my current role as a graduate student, I am really excited to be able to answer my own scientific questions. As a Research Assistant, you perform the tasks necessary to successfully complete research projects designed by other people. Now, I finally get to learn how to develop my own research studies to find answers to questions that I find interesting or believe need to be solved.

9) Can you tell us more about your long-term career plans or goals?

After I graduate, I would ideally like to work at an academic institution doing about 60% research and 40% teaching. I enjoy teaching and tend to find myself learning just as much from the ideas and perspectives of the students as what I hope they learn from me. However, my constant curiosity and passion for problem-solving lead me to believe that research is where I want to spend the majority of my time during my career.

10) What are some of your personal interests or hobbies?

In my spare time, I volunteer at an animal shelter in Media, PA. I spend my time there walking dogs, cleaning kennels, and even helping at outside events. I also enjoy hiking and the outdoors, as well as learning new types of crafting. Free time in graduate school can be hard to come by, but I still try to make it to the animal shelter at least once per week.


Dr. John Whyte and Other Experts Work to Improve Care and Outcomes for Patients in Coma

Dr. John Whyte

The Curing Coma Campaign is committed to addressing the problem of prolonged unconsciousness as a treatable medical problem.  A new organization, launched in 2019 by the Neurocritical Care Society, the Curing Coma Campaign (CCC), now includes multiple organizations and individuals in research and across the acute and post-acute care spectrum, with an interest in this clinical issue. MRRI Founding Director and Institute Scientist Emeritus John Whyte, MD, PhD, is a member of the CCC’s scientific advisory council and an internationally recognized leader in the field of brain injury and disorders of consciousness (DOC).

Historically, critical care research has been primarily concerned with survival and short-term outcomes from coma. Rehabilitation research on DOC has focused on long-term outcomes but hasn’t had the benefit of high-quality data about the acute injury and its treatment. The CCC hopes, over time, to develop longitudinal databases that not only house data regarding acute injury and early care, but also continue on through post-acute rehabilitation and long-term outcomes.

Importantly, simply by bringing together acute and post-acute care providers, the CCC has helped dispel the sense among many intensive care clinicians, that recovery from severe brain injury is hopeless. The collaborative effort has also attracted the attention of the National Institutes of Health, which co-hosted a series of state-of-the-science meetings to discuss what is already known about DOC and to set a research agenda for the advancement of the field.

The CCC is organized into a number of working groups which are addressing different aspects of the problem. Collectively, CCC authors have published 7 papers to date outlining the current state of the science and making recommendations for a future research agenda. Sponsorship of the second annual World Coma Day (held recently on March 22, 2022) helped to raise awareness globally of the problem of coma, and of the developing work of the CCC.


MRRI Releases the 2022 Edition of the MRRI Letters Annual Newsletter

 

Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) is pleased to announce that the 2022 edition of the MRRI Letters annual newsletter is now available.

This edition features messages from MRRI Director Dylan Edwards, PhD, and MossRehab Aphasia Center Co-Founder Ruth Fink, MA, CCC-SLP, as well as an introduction to the newest MRRI Institute Scientist, Dr. Marja-Liisa Mailend, PhD. The newsletter also includes a summary of key accomplishments from the past year and research updates from each of our focus areas. These research updates include stories about projects investigating use of one or both arms to perform tasks after stroke, a new study examining the use of gestures and brain stimulation to enhance language in people with stroke, a novel clinical program in the MossRehab Aphasia Center for people with primary progressive aphasia, and new collaborative work on learning and memory in people with traumatic brain injury and depression.

For more details, read our 2022 newsletter.

 


MossRehab and MRRI Scientists Featured in WHYY Segment on Gaming Technology in Rehabilitation

Scientists at Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) have been conducting research on how different video and virtual reality (VR) game-based technologies may be used to enhance assessment and treatment in individuals following stroke. This cutting-edge research will help inform the world-class care delivered to patients at MossRehab.

Dylan Edwards, PhD, MRRI Director and Director of the Human Motor Recovery Laboratory, and Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD, MRRI Associate Director and Director of the Cognition and Action Laboratory, recently discussed their work with Philadelphia Public radio station WHYY.

Technologies such as VR and digital games may facilitate the assessment of the underlying causes of deficit and may encourage patients to be more engaged in rehabilitation. These approaches may also make it easier for clinicians and researchers to quantify performance during rehabilitation, allow patients to track their progress, and in some cases provide opportunities for patients to continue practicing rehabilitation exercises outside of the clinic.

You can learn more about their research in their featured segment running from 17:17 – 20:02 in WHYY’s recent episode of You Oughta Know.


Dr. Sharon Antonucci Serves as Journal Guest Editor with Featured Research Article

Sharon M. Antonucci, PhD, CCC-SLP, is Director of the MossRehab Aphasia Center, a speech-language pathologist, and a clinical researcher specializing in aphasia and aphasia rehabilitation. Dr. Antonucci recently served as an expert guest editor for the most recent issue of Seminars in Speech and Language, a peer-reviewed academic journal that features review articles spanning the spectrum of speech-language pathology. Guest editors play a critical role in advancing our understanding of specific research areas by working with academic journals to put together and disseminate collections of high-quality articles within their area of expertise.

This latest issue of Seminars in Speech and Language includes an excellent series of articles examining the role of animal-assisted interventions (AAI) in speech-language services. Dr. Antonucci authored the lead article in which she discusses important practical, clinical, and theoretical considerations for integrating animal-assisted interventions in speech-language pathology treatments. As interest in animal-assisted therapy continues to grow among patients, clinicians, and researchers, it becomes increasingly critical to ensure scientists and clinicians are aware of standards and qualifications for delivering services in order to build a sound evidence base to inform clinical practice.

Dr. Antonucci discusses evidence regarding potential benefits of AAI for clinical populations and future directions for further research, as well as practical considerations for clinicians and scientists interested in engaging in AAI or becoming part of an animal-handler team. You can read the full article here.

Through this issue of Seminars in Speech and Language, Dr. Antonucci brought together leading researchers to share key perspectives on some of the most important issues faced by scientists and clinicians who are studying and implementing animal-assisted therapies to facilitate recovery and improve quality of life for patients with aphasia and other communication disorders. This guest-editing opportunity highlights how scientists at the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI), such as Dr. Antonucci, are at the forefront of their fields, shaping the future of rehabilitation research.


Dr. Simon Thibault Begins Postdoctoral Fellowship at MRRI

The Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) is pleased to welcome Simon Thibault, PhD, to our team of talented scientists. During his time at MRRI, Dr. Thibault will be working under the mentorship of Institute Scientist Aaron Wong, PhD, and Associate Director Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD.

Dr. Thibault was awarded his bachelor and master’s degrees in Human Movement and Sports Sciences from the University of Nantes. During his early scientific training, his research examined the neural control of movement and how the processes involved in action may impact cognition. Before beginning work at MRRI, Dr. Thibault completed his PhD in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Lyon in France. In his dissertation research, he investigated how tool use relates to different cognitive functions, such as language.

Specifically, Dr. Thibault’s recent work has demonstrated that the ability to process complex syntactic structures in language and the ability to use a tool are linked, such that training one ability improves the other ability. Further, in a study recently submitted for peer review, Dr. Thibault demonstrated the presence of shared neural bases between tool use and semantics (but not phonological processing).

Dr. Thibault brings expertise in functional neuroimaging and behavioral research methods to his new position at MRRI. Over the next few years, he plans to continue developing his research program to better understand the neurocognitive mechanisms supporting the use of tools and how tool use relates to other cognitive functions, including language. In particular, Dr. Thibault will leverage MRRI’s exceptional training environment and Research Registry to begin working with individuals with damage to particular areas of the brain following stroke, notably to understand what factors may make the use of tools difficult for these individuals.

Dr. Thibault’s long-term research goals are to understand how humans learn to use tools, how the brain is reshaped during this learning process, and how this may be leveraged to benefit other cognitive functions such as language in people with or without neural damage such as stroke.