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The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has received a $4.2 million award from the National Institutes of Health to help expand scientific training and research to improve the rehabilitation and treatment of people with disabilities.

More than 700,000 people in the United States have a stroke each year.  Another 350,000 older adults will fracture their hip through a fall or an accident.  These individuals and many others — those injured in accidents or impaired by disease — will receive some type of rehabilitation treatment intended to help them get back to their daily routine as much as possible, regaining the ability to participate in routine self-help, family and leisure activities. 

The rehabilitation received by former congresswoman Gabriel Giffords following her traumatic brain injury is a recent public example.

In the meantime, however, there is a significant national shortage of clinical practitioners qualified and certified to provide these rehabilitation services. There also is a shortage of scientists who test existing treatments and develop new and improved interventions.

The new UTMB grant will address this problem by creating scientific training opportunities and funding research faculty positions at UTMB, the University of Florida and the University of Southern California.  The program is being funded by the NIH National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The grant will support the training and research activities of about 10 faculty investigators who will be members of interdisciplinary research teams.  Each faculty member will be a research-trained occupational therapist or physical therapist and work with a mentor who is an established rehabilitation scientist.  The consortium of academic institutions will allow the research team members to share information, resources and expertise across the three universities and to build on the unique scientific strengths of the consortium. 

“The Rehabilitation Research Career Development program will increase the number of rigorously trained and scientifically competent rehabilitation scientists who will conduct translational investigations, lead clinical research teams and eventually mentor the next generation of occupational and physical therapy investigators,” said Kenneth Ottenbacher, director of the Division of Rehabilitation Sciences at UTMB and lead investigator. 

The ultimate goal, Ottenbacher said, is to create effective rehabilitation techniques, methods and delivery systems that will allow people who experience a significant injury or impairment to return to the highest possible level of independence and community participation.