January 2021 Updates from MRRI

We are excited to celebrate the start of a new year and continue our excellence in rehabilitation research at the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute.

Last month, MRRI scientists had eight new research articles published or accepted for publication in high-impact peer-reviewed journals such as JAMA Neurology, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and Neurology. We also published several new articles on the MRRI blog, including an interview with MRRI postdoctoral fellow Erica Barhorst-Cates, PhD; a post about Erica Middleton, PhD, being featured on the People Behind the Science podcast; an announcement about a new NIH grant awarded to the MossRehab Aphasia Center; and a year-end message from our Director, Dylan Edwards, PhD.

In January, Dr. Dylan Edwards will present his research on robotics and neuromodulation in people with stroke at the 2021 American Neuromodulation Society Meeting scheduled virtually on January 15-16th. Dr. Edwards will join other world leaders in the field of neuromodulation as a speaker in one of the conference’s plenary sessions.

We look forward to sharing news and updates about MRRI and our exceptional team of scientists throughout the upcoming year.


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.

Sincerely,

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


MossRehab Aphasia Center Receives New NIH Grant to Study Animal-Assisted Therapy

Dr. Antonucci sitting on a bench next to a dog.

More than two million Americans are affected by aphasia, an acquired language impairment commonly resulting from stroke that affects the ability to remember and express words. Affected by the loss of words, these individuals also experience the loss of friendships and opportunities for community engagement.

Sharon M. Antonucci, PhD, CCC-SLP,  recently received a grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to evaluate an animal-assisted treatment for persons with aphasia entitled The Persons with Aphasia Training Dogs (PATD) Program. Targeting the psychosocial consequences of aphasia, including loss of self-confidence and social isolation, this study will harness the strengths of the individual with aphasia and the benefits of human-animal interaction.  

The goals of the program are to:

  • Determine whether people with aphasia, through participation in the PATD program, can learn and implement positive reinforcement techniques to train dogs in basic obedience skills
  • Assess the feasibility of delivering the program in two service delivery models, with family dogs and shelter-dwelling dogs.

Focusing on  these goals, the study team will demonstrate the viability of administering, and quantifying the effects of, canine-assisted aphasia treatment.

Although aphasia is, by definition, a difficulty with words, a major consequence of this condition is  the not just finding the words to communicate, but, rather, the social isolation resulting from the loss of words. Consideringthat individuals with aphasia retain the drive to communicate and pragmatic communication skills such as use of ‘body language’, facial expression, and voice tone , they make  ideal candidates to  work with domestic animals who attend as much, if not more, to how we communicate than to what we say.

This PATD program will provide the foundation to expand aphasia rehabilitation research that targets the handicapping effects of aphasia to include rehabilitation techniques that leverage the benefits of human-animal interaction.  In doing so, it aims to help participants live well with aphasia by increasing their confidence and social engagement.


New People Behind the Science Podcast Episode Features Dr. Erica Middleton

Dr. Middleton's headshot

Erica Middleton, PhD, was invited to discuss her career and her life outside of the lab in an interview for the People Behind the Science podcast. Dr. Middleton is an Institute Scientist and Director of the Language and Learning Laboratory at MRRI. In her research, Dr. Middleton works with both healthy speakers, as well as people who have experienced language impairment due to stroke (called aphasia), to better understand how words are mentally represented and produced.

In her conversation with podcast host Marie McNeely, PhD, Dr. Middleton, discusses one of her current research projects examining how individual differences may inform which treatment techniques should be used clinically to address word finding problems in people with aphasia. These word-finding problems are defined by an individual’s inability to express familiar words, such as the names of common objects. Beyond talking about her lab’s current research, Dr. Middleton shares her path to joining the team at the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute, her love of organic gardening, and excellent advice for aspiring scientists.

You can listen to Dr. Middleton’s full audio interview on the People Behind the Science website.


Get to Know MRRI Postdoctoral Fellow Erica Barhorst-Cates

Headshot of Erica Barhorst-Cates

Erica Barhorst-Cates, PhD has served as a Postdoctoral Fellow at MRRI in the Cognition and Action and Cognitive Motor Learning Labs since August 2019. She sat down with us to talk about life in the lab, her exciting research and scientific career as well as her personal passions.

1) Tell us more about your academic background and training

I received my PhD in Psychology in 2019 from the University of Utah with a specialty in Cognition and Neural Science. While I primarily worked with neurotypical young adults in graduate school, I’ve conducted research across the age spectrum working with neurotypical children and older adults. My research topic focuses on spatial cognition or the way we perceive and interact with the world around us. Through this research, I hope to provide a better understanding of individual differences in spatial cognition, whether due to age, gender, visual status, or movement experience. For example, much of my prior work focused on understanding how low vision caused by disease or temporary visual restrictions impacts spatial navigation. I also conducted research to understand how experience with sports and other highly-trained movement activities (such as dance) affects spatial-cognitive abilities. Aside from movement, I researched how a person’s experience in different environments (e.g., rural versus urban) impacts their ability and strategies for spatial navigation. In my research, I have used different methods such as real-world navigation, virtual reality (VR), and more recently, kinematic motion analysis.

2) What attracted you to science and the field of neurorehabilitation?

I was initially attracted to science because I wanted to understand how people with unique and highly-trained skillsets may perceive and understand the world differently than others. I grew up with a ballet studio as a second home and gained a fascination with how an individual’s dancing experiences could shape their cognitive abilities. Do dancers have better spatial memory for sequences of movements? Are dancers better at imagining movements, or are they more likely to need to directly experience and manipulate things to understand them? Most interestingly, if dancers do have unique or better cognitive abilities in certain realms, can we use dance as a way to improve those abilities in other individuals?

These questions guided my previous work and inspired me to pursue postdoctoral training in the field of neurorehabilitation. Since early in my research career, I have longed to do work that could eventually help people. As an undergraduate, I developed and taught a year-long Dance Movement Therapy class for children with Autism and loved the more direct application of research. While my graduate work focused on understanding the spatial abilities of neurotypical individuals, especially those possessing particularly good spatial abilities, my postdoctoral research has aimed more at understanding how stroke may impair spatial abilities. Although I do not directly work on therapeutic approaches, my hope is that one day my research could inform the development of new treatments.

3) Why did you choose to work at MRRI?

I chose to work at MRRI because of the patient-focused research and the availability of advanced research equipment, including virtual reality, motion tracking, and robotic testing devices. For many years, I wanted to do more applied research with patient populations. MRRI provides the perfect setting to do so. I was very interested in the research questions addressed by Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD, and Aaron Wong, PhD, which also attracted me to the institute.

4) What are some of the research questions you currently working to address?

I currently have two primary lines of work: one related to movement imitation and one related to spatial navigation. Along with my colleagues Dr. Buxbaum, Dr. Wong, and Mitchell Isaacs, we recently completed a project aimed at understanding how people imitate movements using kinematic motion tracking in young neurotypical adults. We currently are working on another project with the goal of better understanding movement imitation in stroke patients. In this study, we are using virtual reality to identify which spatial perspective (first-person or third-person) is best for viewing and learning an upper arm movement.

I’m also excited to say that I was recently awarded an Albert Einstein Society research grant to pursue a project aimed at understanding navigation deficits after stroke. We argue that navigation deficits may be underreported in stroke because the currently-used assessments do not fully capture the extent of impairment. While prior work primarily tested patients’ abilities to perform navigation tasks through self-report questionnaires or on desktop computer simulations, our study will have participants navigate through the MRRI building and learn the locations of landmarks. Patients also will complete several measures to assess their skill with walking, turning, and completing cognitive tasks. We will relate participants’ performances on these measures to their performances on the navigation task to identify factors that could relate to spatial navigation. 

5) What have been some of the key findings of your research?

In our first movement imitation study, we found that people can imitate movements either by paying attention to the motion of the hand through space or by paying attention to how the arm is configured. This is exciting because it suggests that there are multiple ways to instruct a person on how to successfully imitate, which is a key component of motor learning. If an individual has difficulty with one type of imitation (matching their limb positions to the limb positions of another person), a therapist could instruct a patient to use an alternate imitation method, which could improve movement recovery outcomes. While we have so far only studied this phenomenon in neurotypical individuals, we hope to begin a study with patients who experienced a stroke.

6) Can you tell us more about the impact or potential impact of your research?

Spatial navigation is an activity linked to maintaining a high quality of life. The results from the navigation study should tell researchers which measures are most sensitive in predicting difficulties with navigation. These findings are important because, as previously mentioned, we have reason to believe that navigation difficulties are underreported in individuals with stroke. This is because spatial navigation is rarely queried in rehabilitation and the measures used by many researchers have not assessed people’s abilities in real-world situations, where navigators must remember locations and route information while also maintaining balance, walking, turning, and paying attention to their surroundings. Our real-world navigation test and background battery of tests should allow us to more accurately understand how stroke may impair a person’s navigation and other related abilities.. These results could help identify individuals who have difficulty with navigation, thus also identifying individuals who may benefit from targeted rehabilitation.

7) What is one of the biggest challenges faced in your work?

One of the biggest challenges for me is determining how to measure and study some of the complicated cognitive and physical processes in which  I’m interested. For instance, spatial navigation is a complex activity that involves so many processes that it becomes difficult to isolate and study a single component. The complex real-world behavior of spatial navigation that does not occur as an isolated event is actually an exciting reason to study it. .When navigating, people almost always simultaneously do multiple tasks.  There also are individual differences in experience with navigating, skill, priorities, anxiety, and strategies that influence a person’s ability and behavior. In addition, navigation is an extremely important activity for daily functioning, and one that declines even in healthy aging for various reasons – some which are known and some which still must be undetermined. While I find it all fascinating, the complexity makes it challenging to study.

8) What do you see as the next step in your career? Will any experiences or skills from your fellowship at MRRI be particularly useful going forward?

I still have about a year and a half of my postdoctoral fellowship, and I’m not sure exactly of my next step. I would, ultimately, love to become a professor in a psychology department at a university with a versatile research program that includes both patient and neurotypical populations. Once my husband finishes his medical residency in Family Medicine, I likely will apply to universities and see where life takes us. In the meantime, I aim to learn and experience as much as possible!

During my fellowship, I have learned many important skills and had many experiences that I will take with me wherever I go: from sophisticated data analysis techniques and how to use a critical approach to the ins and outs of grant acquisition. I also learned to think about the translational implications of research, which I believe is an extremely important component of science that is sometimes lost. Finally, I have met wonderful people and colleagues who I now consider as friends that I’d like to have for the rest of my life.

9) What is one of your favorite MRRI memories?

Our lab decided to go on a socially-distanced kayaking trip down the Brandywine River in September, which was a lot of fun. More than ten of us each had our own kayaks and took turns navigating the “rapids” and spotting bald eagles. It was such an enjoyable lab outing and so beneficial to get out into nature and reset! I am glad to be a part of a group of individuals who value both work and play.

10) What do you like to do in your free time?

I am an avid outdoors enthusiast and really love hiking, camping, kayaking, and spending time in nature with my husband. I’m very active and love dancing, yoga, and working out. I also am a fervent reader of both fiction and non-fiction books. I am especially passionate about traveling. I love planning trips—researching and visiting new places, meeting new people, and trying new foods. To mitigate my wanderlust during quarantine, we have done a lot of gardening and cooking/baking..


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.


Dr. Dylan Edwards to Share His Expertise in Neuromodulation Through Recent NIH Subaward

MRRI Director Dylan Edwards, PhD, is looking forward to collaborating with colleagues at the Medical University of South Carolina as they establish The National Center of Neuromodulation for Rehabilitation (NC NM4R) with funding recently awarded from the National Institutes of Health. The Medical University of South Carolina is a world-class institution with a history of excellence in education, research, and patient care spanning nearly 200 years. The NC NM4R will serve as a hub for generating and integrating new knowledge in the area of neuromodulation with a focus on how this knowledge can be used to enhance rehabilitation. The NC NM4R is one of six centers in the NIH Medical Rehabilitation Research Resource Network. This Center will provide important support for investigators using neuromodulation methods as research tools or potential treatments in rehabilitation.

Dr. Edwards is a renowned expert in applications of non-invasive brain stimulation in neurorehabilitation across a variety of patient populations, including stroke, cerebral palsy, and spinal cord injury. As a consultant on this NIH award, Dr. Edwards will share his expertise through NC NM4R lectures and workshops. A virtual workshop has been planned in which Dr. Edwards and other leaders in the field will discuss using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for motor mapping in neurorehabilitation. Motor mapping during rehabilitation can provide valuable insights on the control of movement and allow for more precise targeting of the application of neuromodulation therapies. Currently, there is no consensus within scientific and clinical communities regarding mapping protocols or analysis methods. In this upcoming workshop, Dr. Edwards plans to cover innovations in TMS mapping techniques that may inform how researchers and clinicians use motor mapping in rehabilitation research and practice.

Collaborations such as this provide valuable opportunities for MRRI scientists to share their expertise and connect with researchers at other top tier research institutions to make important contributions to the field of rehabilitation research.


Catching Up with Former MRRI Postdoc Marja-Liisa Mailend

MRRI provides exceptional training opportunities for early-career scientists through a postdoctoral research program funded by a National Institutes of Health T32 training grant in translational neurorehabilitation research. Marja-Liisa Mailend, Ph.D., is one of those scientists who recently completed her postdoctoral fellowship position at MRRI.  We chatted with her to discuss her career, research, and experiences during her time at MRRI.

1) Can you tell us more about your current position and where you are now?

I am currently in a transition phase as my husband and I work to synchronize the next steps of our careers. Both of us are pursuing academic careers. It does not mean that I am bored – quite the opposite. I am continuing my research at MRRI on several projects and have started an exciting new collaboration with the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of North Carolina.

2) How did you first get interested in rehabilitation research?

My undergraduate and Master’s degrees are in speech-language pathology. My interest in rehabilitation research came directly from realizing, through my studies and clinical placements, that there is a great need for a solid scientific basis for clinical work. I also discovered that I greatly enjoy the process of scientific thinking and conducting research.

3) Can you describe your academic background and the steps that led you to your fellowship at MRRI?

Deciding what to study after high school was hard for me. I knew that I wanted to continue my studies at a university, but considered vastly different fields from chemistry to psychology. Ultimately, I decided to pursue speech-language pathology and special education. The curriculum appealed to me because of its interdisciplinary nature; it covered subjects from philosophy and linguistics to anatomy and physiology. My young self also was hoping to become involved in a career that could make a difference in people’s lives. Speech-language pathology checked all the boxes.

The idea of pursuing research and doctoral studies never crossed my mind until suddenly it seemed like the most logical next step. In Estonia, where I completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, the final requirement for both of these degrees was a thesis. After completing my Bachelor’s thesis, I realized that working on my thesis had been the most exciting experience in my undergraduate studies. Discussing this with my advisor, he invited me to join a large research project. I was the youngest and the least experienced person on the team and, thus, had the most to learn. I worked on that project in parallel with my Master’s studies. After graduating, it was clear to me that I wanted to pursue a research career and needed to find a Ph.D. program to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills.

It is a complicated story that eventually led me from my little Northern home country of Estonia to the University of Arizona (UofA) located in the sunny and wonderful Sonoran Desert. The story does involve the world-class reputation of the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences at UofA, excellent potential mentors, the love of my life for 14 years and counting, and probably a good amount of luck. I had the opportunity to work with and be mentored by some amazing scientists at UofA who effortlessly solidified my career choice and continue to inspire me today.

4) Why did you choose to conduct postdoctoral research at MRRI?

So many reasons drew me here: the outstanding and highly impactful aphasia research developed at MRRI, exceptional mentors, interest in experiencing a different setting apart from a university, integration with a world-class rehabilitation hospital at MossRehab, excellent resources (particularly in terms of participant recruitment, which can be a major obstacle in my line of work), and so much more.

5) What experiences or skills from your fellowship at MRRI do you think will be most important in your career going forward?

This is a difficult question. I have gained a very rich experience for launching the career in rehabilitation research that I want to pursue. I learned a lot, from the nuts and bolts of conducting rehabilitation research to the big picture issues in the field, which—as anyone in MRRI is ready to explain—is interestingly unique and different from its better-known cousin, pharmacological research. I have many more friends and colleagues within my profession compared to three years ago, when I started here, and I have been a part of the everyday life of two successful labs within a successful research institute. All sorts of skills and ideas seep through one’s clothes through active participation in an environment such as this.

6) What did you enjoy most about working at MRRI?

I enjoy the focus and collective enthusiasm for rehabilitation research. MRRI has a very collegial yet stimulating environment for research. The institute is filled with people who can, and happily do, sink their teeth into any rehabilitation research question. This pertains not only to scientists but to other staff members, such as clinicians and research assistants. The competence and enthusiasm of my colleagues make for very lively meetings and talks at MRRI.  These experiences prepare you for whatever may come once outside the institute’s walls. At MRRI, many problems are solved informally simply by wandering into the kitchenette and talking to whoever is brewing their coffee or waiting for the microwave to announce lunch-time. In addition to the scientific community, it is the very capable administrative staff who make work at MRRI so enjoyable. The administrative staff typically addresses your problems before those problems even take shape. This supportive yet stimulating environment makes a difference because it is easy to feel lonely and stressed in this demanding line of work.

7) What was one of your most memorable moments at MRRI?

Quite a selection of moments rushes into my mind. One of them is seeing my first participant with aphasia in the first experiment that I set up at MRRI. I work on a phenomenon called speech entrainment, which refers to the act of speaking in synchrony with another person. Typical speakers are extremely good at performing this task.  Remarkably, some people with aphasia, whose independent speech is very limited, also can produce much more speech under speech entrainment. It was fascinating to witness that phenomenon for the first time in person.

8) What is something you are working on now that you are really excited about?

Most of my career so far has focused on understanding acquired neurogenic communication disorders such as aphasia and apraxia of speech. The long-term goal is to find better, more effective ways to remediate aphasia and apraxia of speech. At MRRI, I have been able to take the next step towards this goal. My current study explores the possibility of using speech entrainment—the phenomenon previously described —to help people with aphasia and/or apraxia of speech improve their independent speech. We now know that speech entrainment helps many people with aphasia to produce more speech. Now, we want to know if practicing with entrainment will help them speak independently after practice when the entrainment support is removed.

9) Can you share some of the key findings from your research and the impacts your work may have on rehabilitation?

One key finding from my research is with the underlying mechanism of apraxia of speech – a speech disorder that affects the planning of speech movements. Speaking is an incredibly complex skill that involves many levels of processing from forming a thought to precisely-timed muscle contractions in the systems for articulation, phonation, and breath support. My research is focused on the operations that translate a verbal idea in a speaker’s mind into the physical movements that ultimately produce speech. Currently, we assume that this task is achieved via planning chunks called motor programs. Rather than planning each muscle contraction separately, we plan larger units that may correspond, for example, to a syllable in a person’s speech. My research has shown that while motor programs are largely intact in people with apraxia of speech and aphasia, the process of accessing them is impaired. This finding is important clinically because most current treatment approaches explicitly or implicitly assume that the motor programs are not intact in apraxia of speech and must be reestablished in the context of treatment. My research suggests that effective treatments should focus instead or in addition to the process of accessing and selecting the intended motor programs. The next question is how that can be achieved in a treatment context.

10) Can you tell us about some of your interests or hobbies outside of your research? These days I spend quite a bit of time playing in the sandbox, throwing little rocks in the stream, singing made-up songs, and collecting acorns – I am a mother to a two-year-old. I have also collected True American Experiences for quite some time. More recently, I have become a circular economy enthusiast, that is, I am fascinated with the ideas that envision our economy and everyday lives.


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 Participant Spotlight: Tyrone Ogburn

Headshot of Tyrone Ogburn

A few months ago, we chatted with one of MRRI’s cherished research participants, Tyrone Ogburn. In the ten plus years since having a stroke, Tyrone has participated in several research studies, making him an ideal candidate not only to talk about how stroke affects one’s life but what it’s like to participate in research on the behavioral and neurological effects of stroke.

Almost thirteen years ago in March of 2008, Tyrone was living in Atlanta, Georgia.  A few days after visiting his friends and family in Philadelphia for his birthday, he woke up not feeling well. When his mom came to wake him in his room, she could tell from their conversation that something was wrong. Thankfully, she convinced him to call an ambulance. Like many stroke survivors, the rest is hard for Tyrone to remember. At only 45 years old, Tyrone was in good health and working in the medical field as a Certified Nursing Assistant.

Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute Helped with Speech Problems

After his stroke, Tyrone was diagnosed with aphasia, a language disorder that affects a person’s ability to produce and/or understand speech. Tyrone spent months in therapy at MossRehab after his stroke to overcome this speech problems. That’s how he discovered the MossRehab Aphasia Center and Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) – and soon became a research participant in an aphasia study

Naming problems or having difficulty fluently producing words for common objects, familiar people’s names, and known places is almost always present in aphasia.  That was the case for Tyrone. A recent language study in which  Tyrone participated with MRRI involved practice-targeting his naming problems. The study, conducted by the Language and Learning Lab and directed by MRRI Institute Scientist Dr. Erica Middleton, identifies what kinds of naming practice promote the strongest, longest-lasting improvements in naming ability across a large group of people with aphasia. By studying individuals like Tyrone in a large group of people, the study will improve MossRehab’s understanding about which kind of person with aphasia benefits most from which kind of naming treatment.

Research Helps Tyrone Help Other Stroke Victims

When asked why he decided to participate in research after his stroke, Tyrone said, “I want somebody else to know that if I can do it, someone else can too.” Tyrone talks about how much research helped him express his feelings when he was still unable to communicate effectively after his stroke. He further explained how the patience and understanding of everyone in his first study encouraged him to continue volunteering for new research opportunities.

Tyrone said, “I wanted to do it again because it’s a really good purpose for the speech problems”.

While Tyrone’s interests in research are mostly language-related because of his aphasia diagnosis, he has participated in many other MRIII research studies. Last year Tyrone was a participant in  an ongoing study in the Neuroplasticity and Motor Behavior Lab directed by MRRI Institute Scientist Dr. Shailesh Kantak. This study is examining how stroke can affect upper limb coordination. He also completed a study in the Cognitive Motor Learning Lab directed by MRRI Institute Scientist Dr. Aaron Wong thataims to determine how people use visual information versus sensations to guide movements.

Tyrone Encourages Family Members to Participate in Research

Tyrone has valued his research participation so much that when his aunt suffered a stroke last year, he encouraged her enrollment in our Research Registry. When Tyrone isn’t volunteering his time to participate in research, he enjoys a variety of fulfilling activities. He loves taking his dog, Sadie, to nearby parks and walking around their neighborhood in South Philadelphia. In addition, he likes to explore local flea markets and shops as well as having cookouts with his friends and family. Research participants like Tyrone are critical for our mission at MRRI to improve the lives of individuals with neurological disabilities through research. We value the time and commitment of all of the volunteers who contribute to MRRI research and appreciate the opportunities to share our research with these individuals and their families.