Improving recovery from spinal cord injuries: $3.7 million grant will create rehabilitation network

Georgetown to house one of only six similar NIH-funded programs in the country

Each year, nearly 11,000 Americans suffer disabling spinal cord injuries, the majority of whom are young and active adults. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, these injuries often result in partial or total paralysis and cost patients millions of dollars in rehabilitation therapies and other medical care.

A new $3.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health awarded to GUMC will help improve outcomes for individuals with these kinds of injuries by creating an interdisciplinary research network in spinal cord injury and rehabilitation throughout the Washington, DC region. Called the National Capital Area Rehabilitation Network (NCARRN), this five-year grant will fund one of only six similar NIH-funded programs in the country and will bring together outstanding programs at area universities and hospitals in both basic science and clinical research to provide improved and more comprehensive care to patients in the District of Columbia.

"By bringing together strong researchers and clinicians experienced in rehabilitation delivery, our work truly represents the paradigm of translational research," said Barbara Bregman, PhD, PT, principal investigator of the grant and professor of neuroscience at Georgetown University Medical Center. "This comprehensive network will also strengthen Washington's position as one of the leading areas in the country for spinal cord injury research and care."

Because NCARRN will have a unique dual focus on research and clinical care, investigators from different disciplines and institutions will work together to understand the neural mechanisms underlying rehabilitation, as well as design and implement applications to maximize recovery and improve quality of life. Other institutions involved in the DC network currently include MedStar Health's National Rehabilitation Hospital and the Catholic University of America.

The network will be primarily housed at the National Rehabilitation Hospital and Georgetown University Medical Center, which has a strong basic science research program in the neurosciences. The network will also work closely with Georgetown's Center for Functional and Molecular Imaging, which uses advanced technology to combine brain imaging with behavioral methods to explore the neural mechanisms of thought, feeling, movement and perception.

NCARRN will concentrate on four areas of research:

  • rehabilitation robotics, including orthotics and prosthetics;
  • imaging technologies (animal and human MRI and fMRI);
  • animal models of injury, plasticity and recovery of function (or the process of how the body restores function after injury);
  • cellular and molecular approaches of plasticity (the lifelong ability of the brain to reorganize neural pathways based on new experiences.)

The network will also coordinate sabbatical and pilot grant programs for visiting research scholars who are poised to become strong independent investigators in the field. It will sponsor various educational opportunities, including research design and grant writing development program. Bregman, and Joseph M. Hidler, PhD, associate professor at the Catholic University of America, will serve as program directors of NCARRN.

A faculty member at GUMC since 1988, Bregman served as chair of the Department of Neuroscience from 1999-2005. The goal of her research program is to identify the requirements of developing and mature CNS neurons for survival and axonal regeneration after injury and to identify ways to enhance regenerative growth and recovery of function after spinal cord injury at birth or at maturity.

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Other Georgetown investigators for the network grant include: Craig Carignan, ScD; Alan Faden, MD; Edward Healton, MD, MPH; Timea Hodics, MD; Lawrence Kromer, PhD; Italo Mocchetti, PhD; Maximilian Riesnenhuber, PhD; Jean Wrathall, PhD; and Thomas Zeffiro, PhD.

About Georgetown University Medical Center
Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through our partnership with MedStar Health). Our mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis--or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and Health Studies, both nationally ranked, and the world renowned Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. For more information, go to http://gumc.georgetown.edu.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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