TBI Rehabilitation Research Laboratory

Director: John Whyte


Research in the TBI Rehabilitation Research Laboratory focuses on attention and executive function impairments, as well as disorders of consciousness that result from traumatic brain injury and other forms of diffuse brain damage. Our work attempts to understand the relationship between specific cognitive impairments and complex real-world functioning, to improve measurement tools ranging from imaging markers to naturalistic functional assessments, and to develop and test novel treatments for these deficits, with an emphasis on pharmacologic treatments.

In addition to empirical work on these cognitive impairments and their pharmacologic treatment, we are interested in the problem of defining non-pharmacologic rehabilitation treatments. Whereas medications are easily specified in terms of their chemical ingredients and dose, specifying the “active ingredients” of the many experiential and learning-based treatments, which form the bulk of TBI rehabilitation, is much more challenging. Inability to define these treatments in mechanistically relevant ways also limits our ability to study their efficacy. For this reason, we are engaged in the development of a rehabilitation treatment taxonomy, and in examining appropriate research designs for testing the effects of such treatments as they proceed through the clinical research developmental pipeline.

Programs of Research

  • Zolpidem and restoration of consciousness: research on the phenomenon of zolpidem-induced improvement in consciousness among vegetative and minimally conscious patients and the neural substrate involved in this response. With:  Jung-hoon Kim, MD, MTR, Allen Osman, Riya Rajan, Lisa Pinder, and Rachelle Rigous at MRRI, Soojin Park, PhD, Joseph Giacino, PhD, Nicholas Schiff, MD, at Cornell University
  • Amantadine as a treatment to enhance recovery from the vegetative and minimally conscious states. With: Sooja Cho at MRRI; Joseph Giacino, PhD
  • Pilot research on the effects of dextroamphetamine on recovery during acute TBI rehabilitation. With: Tessa Hart, Thomas Watanabe, MD, and the TBI Model System team at MRRI;
  • Cross-national research on treatment intensity and functional outcome during TBI rehabilitation, between MossRehab and Hvidovre Hospital, Copenhagen. With: Tessa Hart and the TBI Model System team at MRRI; Annette Nordenbo, MD, and colleagues at Hvidovre Hospital, Denmark

Research Methods and Career Development

  • Development of a rehabilitation treatment taxonomy. With: Marcel Dijkers, PhD, and colleagues at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, NY; Tessa Hart, Andrew Packel; and Mary Ferraro at MRRI
  • Neuro-Cognitive Rehabilitation Research Network, an infrastructure grant to supply technical support to researchers in cognitive neuroscience and cognitive rehabilitation. A collaborative project with multiple colleagues at MRRI and John Detre, MD, H. Branch Coslett, MD, and Daniel Kimberg at the Center for Functional Neuroimaging & the Department of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Rehabilitation Medicine Scientist Training Program (RMSTP), a national NIH-funded training program for physiatric research career development. With: Michael Boninger, MD, at the University of Pittsburgh; Mary Czerniak at MRRI