Dr. John Whyte Receives Prestigious Award in Physiatry

John Whyte

MRRI is excited to announce that former Director and Institute Scientist Emeritus John Whyte, MD, PhD, has been selected to receive the Distinguished Member Award from the Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP). The AAP is a professional organization dedicated to improving patient care by advancing physical medicine and rehabilitation (physiatry) through research and education.

The AAP Distinguished Member Award is given to internationally recognized leaders in the field of physiatry who have made significant contributions to the field through their teaching, research, and academic publications and who have demonstrated a history of service to the AAP. Only one candidate per year may be nominated for this award.

Over the course of his career, Dr. Whyte has made substantial clinical and research contributions to the field of neurorehabilitation. He served as principal investigator in establishing the world-class Moss Traumatic Brain Injury Model System and collaborated with subsequent PI’s, Tessa Hart, PhD, and Amanda Rabinowitz, PhD, in its successful development for more than 20 years. Model Systems are highly-competitive federally funded centers of excellence for both treatment and research related to a particular disability. In addition, Dr. Whyte has played a critical role in developing and disseminating the Rehabilitation Treatment Specification System, a standardized system for specifying the components of rehabilitation treatments. Through his research, Dr. Whyte has improved our understanding of attention and executive function impairments in traumatic brain injury, and he has meaningfully advanced clinical practice surrounding the assessment and treatment of disorders of consciousness after brain injury.

Beyond his clinical contributions, Dr. Whyte has dedicated substantial effort to training the next generation of rehabilitation physicians and scientists through leadership of numerous career development initiatives over the years. These initiatives include designing the national Rehabilitation Medicine Scientist Training Program in 2001 (which he continues to co-direct with Michael Boninger, MD) and serving as PI of the T32 Postdoctoral Training Program in Translational Neurorehabilitation Research held jointly with the University of Pennsylvania.

MRRI congratulates Dr. Whyte on this well-deserved recognition for his many career achievements in research and education. He will be presented with the AAP Distinguished Member award on the final day of the AAP’s Annual Meeting, Friday, February 24, 2023.


MRRI Appoints New Associate Director

Laurel Buxbaum Amanda Rabinowitz
After six years as Associate Director of Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute, Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD, is transitioning this role to the newly appointed Associate Director Amanda Rabinowitz, PhD. Since taking office in 2018, Dr. Buxbaum has helped lead the institute through multiple landmark events including the start of a new Director, recruitment of multiple new Institute Scientists, the many challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the logistics and opportunities presented by the recent merger of Einstein Healthcare Network and Jefferson Health. While engaged in this leadership role, Dr. Buxbaum has maintained an active and highly productive research program, and she will continue her research at MRRI as an Institute Scientist and Director of the Cognition and Action Laboratory. The scientists and staff of the Institute are deeply grateful to Dr. Buxbaum for her leadership and service over the past several years.

“It has been a great privilege to serve MRRI as Associate Director for the past six years,” Dr. Buxbaum stated. “I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish during times that were both exciting and challenging. With our recruitment of Dylan Edwards, PhD, MRRI Director, as well as several talented Institute Scientists, we are very well-positioned for further growth. I look forward to continuing to play an active role in maintaining the Institute’s profile as a world-class research entity, as well as leading my laboratory’s NIH-funded research program in new directions.”

Dr. Amanda Rabinowitz began work as MRRI’s new Associate Director at the start of this month. In this role, she will assist Director Dylan Edwards, PhD, in guiding the Institute as it continues to grow and further its research programs in the coming years. In addition to her new role, Dr. Rabinowitz is Director of the Brain Injury Neuropsychology Laboratory and Scientific Director of the Moss Traumatic Brain Injury Model System. Dr. Rabinowitz will continue in these roles as well, advancing our understanding of cognitive and emotional outcomes in individuals with chronic brain injury and the impacts of technology-based interventions such as mobile health technology.

“It’s a great honor to have the opportunity to serve MRRI in this leadership role after being a part of the team for the past seven years,” remarked Dr. Rabinowitz. “This is an exciting time for the institute, as we continue to grow and take advantage of new opportunities now that we are under the Jefferson Health umbrella. I’m excited to move forward alongside Dr. Edwards supporting our talented team of Institute Scientists as MRRI continues to advance the science and clinical practice of neurorehabilitation.”


New Studies Advance Translational Neuroscience Research for Spinal Cord Injury

 

The World Health Organization estimates that 250,000 – 500,000 people globally experience a spinal cord injury each year, and these injuries often lead to substantial long-term disability, impacts on quality of life, and high economic costs. Despite substantial investigation in this area of research, scientists have not yet identified a way to trigger damaged neurons in the human adult spinal cord to successfully regenerate or regrow.

In particular, researchers have been investigating various signaling pathways that are active during early development when these axons naturally grow, as well as the physiological changes that occur afterward that prevent neuronal regrowth and regeneration once development is completed. During development of the central and peripheral nervous system, long-distance axon growth is mediated in part by a biochemical pathway within neurons called the RAF–MAP2K (mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase) signaling cascade. This pathway has been identified as a potential target for intervention to facilitate axon regrowth and regeneration after spinal cord injury.

In order to evaluate new potential treatments for spinal cord injury, a critical step is examining the impacts of these interventions in animal models. Further research can then focus on translating these results to develop treatments appropriate for clinical application in humans.

In work led by researchers at Burke Neurological Institute and Weill Cornell Medicine, researchers investigated whether the RAF–MAP2K signaling cascade could be activated using genetic engineering and noninvasive stimulation to promote axon sprouting and functional recovery in the adult nervous system in mice. Their recent findings represent a significant advancement in the translation of a potential non-invasive treatment approach to promote motor recovery after spinal cord injury.

Dylan Edwards, PhD, MRRI Director and Director of the Human Motor Recover Laboratory, is a co-author on the paper recently published in Science Translational Medicine that details their experiments and findings. In particular, Dr. Edwards was instrumental in providing insight for the noninvasive stimulation protocols used in this research. Non-invasive stimulation methods such as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) show promise for enhancing recovery after nervous system injury, but there are still many unanswered questions regarding the mechanisms by which these methods confer benefits, the extent of recovery which may be possible, and the optimal parameters of delivery.

Using genetic approaches, the authors demonstrated that activation of BRAF (a protein kinase that plays a key role in the RAF–MAP2K signaling cascade) resulted in upregulation of transcription factors that were shown to be associated with neuronal development and neuronal regeneration in prior studies. Activation of BRAF was also associated with downregulation of transcription factors previously demonstrated to limit the capacity of axons to regenerate. In their subsequent experiments, the authors of this paper showed compelling evidence that BRAF activation allowed axon sprouting, formation of new synapses, and functional recovery in mouse models of spinal cord injury. These results suggest that conditions conducive to regeneration and regrowth can be induced in mature neurons in the corticospinal neurons via the RAF–MAP2K signaling cascade by activating BRAF.

Further, scientists determined that daily high-frequency rTMS sessions activated the RAF–MAP2K signaling pathway and also modulated the expression of the same set of transcription factors associated with regeneration. In addition, high-frequency rTMS resulted in axon sprouting, regeneration, and functional recovery in spinal cord neurons after injury. Moreover, researchers confirmed that a functional RAF–MAP2K signaling pathway was essential to achieving these results.

These findings are important because many genetic approaches used in animal models are not feasible for use in clinical applications in humans. High-frequency rTMS is a non-invasive method that has been demonstrated to be safe to use in numerous clinical research studies, and the results of this study strongly support that it may be an effective approach to facilitate regeneration and recovery after spinal cord injury.

Dr. Edwards and his colleagues have begun clinical trials of a high-frequency rTMS protocol in humans, and they will also continue to investigate related questions in animal models. This line of research has the potential to lead to the development of a non-invasive, low-risk treatment method for spinal cord injury and other nervous system injuries that could improve the lives of millions of people around the world.

This research was made possible by funding from the National Institutes of Health, the New York State Department of Health Spinal Cord Injury Research Board, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, the Wings for Life Research Foundation, the Goldsmith Research Foundation, and the Burke Foundation. You can read the published version of the original research article in Science Translational Medicine, and a full-text pre-print of the manuscript is also available on bioRxiv.


Dr. Buxbaum to Serve as Invited Visiting Professor at Sapienza University

Laurel Buxbaum

Scientists at Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) are known for their exceptional track record of collaborative research, and MRRI Institute Scientist Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD, has a rich network of scientific collaborators across the country and around the world. The Institute is pleased to announce that Dr. Buxbaum will serve as an invited visiting professor at Sapienza University in Rome, Italy. Each year, Sapienza University supports collaborative research activities between its faculty and outstanding foreign visiting professors who are selected based on international recognition for their scientific or academic achievements. Dr. Buxbaum will be working in the laboratory of Professor Salvatore Aglioti, a behavioral neurologist and Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychological Physiology at Sapienza University and the IRCCS Fondazione Santa Lucia Roma. She will join Professor Aglioti in Rome in Spring 2023 to work on research projects related to action and body representations. Dr. Buxbaum will also deliver a number of invited lectures and mentor students at Sapienza University. MRRI congratulates Dr. Buxbaum on this exciting opportunity!


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.

Sincerely,

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.


Transforming Neurorehabilitation Through Research

For 30 years, Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute has been conducting research spanning basic neuroscience to clinical neuroscience and neurorehabilitation with an eye toward improving the lives of individuals with neurological disabilities. In the latest episode of the MossRehab Conversations podcast, MRRI Founding Director John Whyte, MD, PhD, current MRRI Director Dylan Edwards, PhD, and Associate Director Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD, look back at what the institute has accomplished and ahead at the work that is still to be done.

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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.