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.”


Anna Krason Joins MRRI to Work on Collaborative Research

Scientists and staff at Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) are pleased to welcome Anna Krason, MSc, to the Institute this month. Ms. Krason is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Experimental Psychology at University College London (UCL). Her dissertation supervisors are MRRI Scientist in Residence and UCL Professor Gabriella Vigliocco, PhD, MRRI Associate Director Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD, and UCL Professor Rosemary Varley, PhD. The focus of her dissertation research has been on multimodal communication and the impact of visual cues on speech comprehension in neurotypical individuals and people with chronic aphasia. These visual cues include the gestures and mouth movements that are integral to face-to-face communication. During her PhD, Ms. Krason was awarded UCL Bogue Fellowship and MRRI Peer Review Committee grant to visit MRRI and investigate the benefit of visual speech information to aphasic comprehension

Ms. Krason received her undergraduate and postgraduate training in French Philology focusing on Linguistics and Translation from the University of Wroclaw in Poland. Afterwards, she continued her studies there, obtaining Speech and Language Therapy qualifications. Next, Ms. Krason earned her MSc degree in Psychology and Language Science from UCL, specializing in Neuroscience and Communication. Drs. Vigliocco and Buxbaum served as her MSc supervisors on a project examining the integration of co-speech gestures in people with aphasia and limb apraxia. Prior to enrolling in her PhD program at UCL, Anna worked as a research assistant on a project investigating a computer-based speech comprehension therapy for individuals with aphasia. This therapy incorporated elements of gamification to increase user engagement.

At MRRI, Ms. Krason will be working on a joint NIH project led by Institute Scientist and Director of the Language and Learning Laboratory, Erica Middleton, PhD, and the Director of Neuroscience of Language Lab at George Washington University, Malathi Thothathiri, PhD. In this project, Ms. Krason will use EEG and eye-tracking methods to investigate the impact of cognitive control deficits on sentence comprehension in individuals with aphasia.

Ms. Krason will also continue her collaboration with the Language and Cognition lab at UCL, as well as with Drs. Buxbaum and Vigliocco on their project examining multimodal communication in aphasia.

With a background in speech and language therapy, Ms. Krason is particularly interested in the interplay between the brain and language. Her long-term research goal is to advance our understanding of cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying language and its impairments.


Transforming the Medical Record For Clinical-Research Integration at its Best

Computer monitor with the words "medical record"

Healthcare is increasingly turning to big data as a way to build health profiles and predictive models to inform diagnosis and treatment. In the future, it is likely that the types of algorithms that currently predict what movie a person would like to watch or what takeout they would like to order, could be used to select treatments that are personalized to your individual condition and needs.

Critical to achieving this future, however, is the ability to merge scientific information with clinical information derived from well-documented electronic medical records (EMRs). EMRs are replacing traditional paper-based medical records for good reason. These EMR systems can facilitate workflow and improve the quality of patient care and safety. Moreover, the data stored in the EMR may be used to conduct quality improvement initiatives, and it can be analyzed to gain scientific insights to guide models of care. In order to unlock the tremendous promise of these tools, it is important that the EMR is designed in a way that relevant clinical information can be extracted and properly classified.

Extracting data from EMRs for research purposes presents multiple serious challenges, as there is a lack of standardization with regards to the terminology used for diagnosis, clinical findings, and specification of treatments. This latter issue—treatment specification—is of particular concern in the area of rehabilitation. Researchers, including those here at Moss, have noted the lack of detail in descriptions of non-pharmacological behavioral treatments, such as those used in rehabilitative care. “Most rehabilitation treatments are defined in the chart by the discipline of the person providing them, the problem they are addressing, and the time spent on it. Very little is documented about the treatment’s “ingredients” — specific actions taken by the clinician to bring about the desired functional improvements. It’s analogous to an internist documenting that they spent 15 minutes providing large white pills to improve breathing,” notes John Whyte, MD, PhD, who has led and contributed to multiple federally-funded efforts to develop a rehabilitation treatment specification system.

Understanding what treatment factors and processes lead to better outcomes, and for which patient subgroups, would allow the development of more effective rehabilitation strategies. The information required to gain this understanding is very complex and requires capturing detailed information on injury type and severity; the types, timing, and amounts of interventions received; and how these factors affect outcomes across diverse types of patients.

To address this gap, Moss is participating in an effort funded through the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke that will not only transform our local electronic documentation system, but also harmonize our EMR with 15 other leading rehabilitation hospitals across the country, to enable the largest study to date of the rehabilitation strategies and outcomes for persons living with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

The study, called Comparing Treatment Approaches to Promote Inpatient Rehabilitation Effectiveness for Traumatic Brain Injury (CARE4TBI), is led by Drs. Jennifer Bogner, PhD (contact PI, OSU), Cynthia Beaulieu, PhD (MPI, OSU), and Erinn Hade, PhD (MPI, NYU). This pragmatic observational study will recruit nearly 1,600 participants through 15 TBI Model Systems sites, located across the United States in various health systems and communities. Using the standardized data captured during inpatient stays, the impact of naturally occurring differences in approach to rehabilitation therapy will be evaluated relative to their effectiveness in improving the person’s ability to care for themselves and to function at home, at work/school, and in the community through one-year post-injury.

Amanda Rabinowitz, PhD, is the Site Principal Investigator for the CARE4TBI study at Moss; Mary Ferraro, PhD, OTR/L and Andrew Packel, PT, NCS, are contributing to the multicenter, multidisciplinary team responsible for identifying and designing new data forms and response sets to be added to the standardized EMR; and Dr. Whyte is a Moss member of the study’s Steering and Executive Committees. The aim is to capture data chronicling treatment and recovery during the natural course of a patient’s hospitalization. Dr. Ferraro and Mr. Packel have been working with Moss administrators, clinical frontline staff, and information systems specialists to design EMR changes to capture this important clinical information accurately and efficiently, while ensuring that the changes integrate well into Moss’s current EMR to enhance daily documentation of care.

“It’s of great importance to the whole study team that the EMR changes not only support the research, but also fit within the clinical work-flow. This is why we have included the input of frontline clinicians and clinical leaders in our redesign efforts,” Dr. Rabinowitz states. The study team is hopeful that improvements to the EMR may create efficiencies in documentation and could confer benefits for the delivery of care. As Dr. Ferraro notes, “This process has raised important discussions about how therapists describe interventions and document patient status. With these modifications, there will be a better distinction between clinical assessments and therapeutic treatments, which is an essential step to the examination of care delivery.” And this is only the beginning. Dr. Whyte adds, “This project has led us to develop close working relationships among researchers, clinical leaders, and EMR designers and programmers. We hope this collaboration will lead to additional future projects that exploit the scientific value of a well-designed EMR.”

“We are very enthusiastic about Moss’s involvement in this project, and what it could mean for the future,” noted Dr. Rabinowitz. “We believe that the EMR changes that come from this clinical-research integration will pave the way for continued collaborations — both locally and with other TBI Models System sites — that have the potential to directly inform care.”


Catching Up with Former MRRI Postdoc Charlene Lee, PhD

Charlene Lee, PhD

Over the years, Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) scientists have provided outstanding mentorship and training to postdoctoral fellows from diverse academic, cultural, and geographic backgrounds. Chia-Lin (Charlene) Lee, PhD, worked at MRRI from 2010 to 2012 in the Cognition and Action Laboratory directed by Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD. In this interview, Charlene discusses her research and her experiences at MRRI.

Question List

  • Can you tell us more about your current position and what you are doing now?

I am an associate professor at National Taiwan University (NTU). My main appointment is with the Graduate Institute of Linguistics, and I also have joint appointments with the Department of Psychology and Graduate Institute of Brain and Mind Sciences, and I am a member of the NTU Neurobiology and Cognitive Neuroscience Center. My work mainly involves teaching, advising graduate students, and doing research. Other than that, I also help review papers for journals and recently took the associative editor position for Psychophysiology.

 

  • What are your research interests?

My research interests lie primarily in the area of language processing. Recent work in our lab focuses on the collaborative nature of the two hemispheres of the brain during language processing. For example, what is the role of the right hemisphere in acquiring syntactic regularities and what support can the right hemisphere provide when the dominant system in the left hemisphere deteriorates with age? We are also interested in understanding the predictive processing in the brain. For example, what kind of linguistic information do we anticipate prior to the actual perception of the inputs? What modulates our abilities to do so? What do predictions formed during language comprehension have in common with predictions formed during perception, actions, or other cognitive tasks?

 

  • Can you describe the impacts or potential impacts of your research?

Language is an amazing manifestation of human intelligence. Understanding how a complex system like language is deciphered in the brain brings us closer to the core of the human mind and provides potential help for rehabilitation or intervention. For example, our recent work showed that, although the right hemisphere is usually given little attention in the literature when it comes to syntactic processing, our data suggest that it has some morphosyntactic capacity (processing for both morphological change and syntactic agreement) that is similar to what the left hemisphere has. In addition, the right hemisphere is engaged to a greater degree during syntactic processing in healthy older adults. We also discovered that the right hemisphere can provide important contribution in the initial learning stage of syntactic regularities in healthy young adults.

 

  • What first attracted you to science?

I was interested in biology and mathematics as a kid. Growing up I become fascinated by how humans are capable of processing complex symbolic systems like language seemingly effortlessly. Language studies were categorized as humanities in the education system I was in. It was not until my senior year that I realized that what I was interested in could be studied in more scientific ways in linguistics and psychology.

 

  • Why did you choose to work as a postdoctoral fellow at MRRI?

I have always been interested in how language interconnects with other sensory-motor systems. At that time, Dr. Buxbaum had a research line that focused on embodied cognition and how different types of actions may differentially constitute meaning representations. I was very drawn to this hypothesis and thought that it was a great opportunity to learn how to systematically examine research questions like this. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work as a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Buxbaum at MRRI to learn more on this topic.

 

  • What was it like working in the Cognition and Action Laboratory at MRRI?

When I was in the lab, there were also other post-docs and full-time research assistants. Everyone was very friendly and professional. It was a very collegial lab. I still remember the help Dr. Solene Kalenine gave me when I first got to the lab, and those afternoons when people grabbed a cup of coffee and drew new ideas on the whiteboard!

Dr. Buxbaum is a very energetic leader, but she also kept things at a very reasonable pace. She gave us room to sharpen our skills and catch up on the literature that we may not be as familiar with as we wanted to be, and provided the help and resources that we needed. At a project meeting, her suggestions were always insightful and nudged the project in the right direction. J She is also very fun to be with. Her passions for science and music are very inspiring to me.

 

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

The research training I got from MRRI was very solid and had a great influence on me. Other than that, working at MRRI gave me many opportunities to work with people from various disciplines and to observe how people from different disciplines communicate and collaborate. These kinds of multidisciplinary experiences are very helpful in my current position.

 

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

When I think about my time working at MRRI, the first image that pops into my mind is the regular lab meetings we had in the common area. Dr. Buxbaum’s lab had a weekly lab meeting with collaborating labs, including Dr. Dan Mirman’s and Dr. Steven Jax’s labs. Those meetings were always light-hearted and full of friendly comments and discussions. We were very productive, but things were done in a very collegial environment. Maybe that’s why I always remember it as a cozy afternoon scene with autumn sunlight.

I also like that our offices were among the areas where patients regularly came in for therapy sessions or social group activities. This and our clinical seminars that Dr. Kalenine mentioned in her recent interview really helped to flesh out my research experience as they helped me to see how different endeavors can all work together toward a common goal.

 

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

In my current position, I spend a lot of time working with ‘young students’ (master’s students or undergraduate students). I hope, with time, our young students will become mature and independent scientists. I very much look forward to working with them as peers and colleagues. Then it can be my turn to take a break to refuel my research energy! Eventually, I hope we can build a language science team at National Taiwan University and attract more talented local and international researchers to join us.

 

  • What are some of your personal interests or hobbies?

I like watching movies and reading novels. I also like to bring my kids outside to enjoy nature. Taiwan is a mountainous island. There are many easy and moderate hiking trails available, and it is also quite convenient to go to a beach.


MRRI Welcomes New Postdoc Dr. Yingxue Tian

Yingxue Tian

Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) is delighted to welcome a new postdoctoral fellow, Yingxue Tian, PhD, to their team of scientists. During the next three years, Dr. Tian will be working under the joint mentorship of Erica Middleton, PhD, in the Language and Learning Lab and Marja-Liisa Mailend, PhD, in the Speech and Language Recovery Lab.

Dr. Tian’s research investigates the cognitive and neural architecture of working memory, specifically the mechanisms dedicated to processing the serial order of verbal and visuospatial information units. To address this topic, she has relied on a wide variety of techniques, including the individual differences approach, the neuropsychological approach, and the network neuroscience approach.

Dr. Tian completed her undergraduate training in Statistics at Beijing Institute of Technology, and she earned her PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from Rice University. In her dissertation, Dr. Tian investigated the intersection between working memory and spatial processing, identifying the behavioral and network-level neural underpinnings of the reorganization of working memory units in space. She has also investigated the generalization of inhibitory control from executive function to language processing after neuromodulatory (tDCS) training. Dr. Tian has received recognition for her early career research, including the Kenneth R. Laughery Award for Best Master’s Thesis in Psychology, the Pre-Dissertation Research Grant, and the Dissertation Research Improvement Grant from the School of Social Sciences at Rice University.

At MRRI, Dr. Tian will investigate the connection between language, working memory, and long-term memory. Specifically, she will study the relationship between the cognitive-linguistic profiles of people with aphasia and different types of speech errors. She will also investigate the individual differences in response to treatment from different training approaches for word retrieval in aphasia.

Dr. Tian’s long-term research goals are to advance our knowledge of the interplay between language processing and memory and to employ this knowledge for designing effective treatments that can facilitate recovery of disrupted cognitive functions after stroke.

Welcome, Dr. Tian!


The Sensorimotor Learning Lab Works to Raise Ataxia Awareness

Amanda Therrien

Ataxia is a disabling neurological condition of impaired movement coordination that can result from damage to a structure in the brain called the cerebellum. Individuals with Ataxia have trouble controlling their balance when standing. They also have difficulty walking, coordinating reaching movements with their arms, speaking, and controlling the movement of their eyes.

MRRI Institute Scientist and Sensorimotor Learning Lab Director, Amanda Therrien, PhD, studies cerebellar Ataxia. Her research uses a combination of behavioral and computational methods to improve our understanding of the neural mechanisms through which the cerebellum contributes to movement control. Dr. Therrien uses this knowledge to develop new movement training techniques aimed at improving rehabilitation for individuals with this disorder.

Cerebellar Ataxia is a component of many neurological disorders – e.g., multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, congenital brain malformations, and paraneoplastic conditions triggered by an abnormal immune system response to cancerous tumors. Dr. Therrien’s work focuses on a host of genetic conditions, called Spinocerebellar Ataxias (SCAs), that cause a progressive degeneration of the cerebellum. While SCAs run in families, sporadic gene mutations can cause other genetic conditions that lead to cerebellar degeneration without a family history. The National Ataxia Foundation estimates that, in the United States alone, 15,000 – 20,000 people have SCAs, and that tens of thousands more are affected by recessive and sporadic forms of Ataxia.

Each year, International Ataxia Awareness Day is observed on September 25th. This week, Dr. Therrien and others at MRRI are proud to continue raising public awareness and support for Ataxia. On Saturday October 1st, Dr. Therrien will represent MRRI at the 2022 Central PA Walk n’ Roll to Cure Ataxia. You can donate to the cause here. You are also invited to join us at 10:00 am on Saturday, October 1st at the Lions Pavilion in Kerr Park, Downingtown, PA to participate in the event! Through Walk n’ Roll events across the country, over $3,000,000 has been raised to support the National Ataxia Foundation’s mission to accelerate the development of treatments and improve the lives of people living with Ataxia.

To get involved or learn more about Ataxia research at MRRI you can follow us on Twitter and Facebook. You can also learn more about Dr. Therrien and the Sensorimotor Learning Laboratory on our website.