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Research Overview

Rehabilitation Sciences research is interdisciplinary and examines methods of prevention, intervention and recovery associated with disabilities and chronic disease that limit a person's ability to engage in meaningful personal, community, recreational and vocational activities.

Our research programs are focused in four primary areas: Aging and Geriatric Rehabilitation, Clinical and Community Rehabilitation, Muscle Biology of Rehabilitation, and Population-based Health Services Rehabilitation.

Junior faculty, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students have an opportunity to work with nationally recognized faculty across departments, schools and research areas at UTMB, participating in a variety of research and training experiences.

Areas of Research

Areas of Research

Social, environmental, and medical interventions associated with successful aging are investigated, including evaluation of functional outcomes and the impact of minority status on health and disability in older adults. The goal of aging research is to prevent or reduce disability and enhance the quality of life and functional independence of older adults.

This area of research examines social, environmental, and medical interventions associated with successful aging, and evaluates functional outcomes and the impact of minority status on health and disability in older adults. More than 17 million older adults reported the need for some use of long-term care and rehabilitation services in 2005. Sixty-five percent of these individuals are 65 years-of-age and older. Research collaboration takes place with investigators in the Sealy Center on Aging (SCOA), who are internationally recognized leaders in geriatric health care and disability research in minority aging. The goal of aging research investigations is to prevent or reduce disability and enhance the quality of life and functional independence of older adults. Key research projects/programs are highlighted below.

Hispanic Health

Hispanic health research uses a population-based perspective, in which the social and economic context and the behavior of individuals play a central role in the study of how health changes as people age. The Hispanic Established Populations Epidemiological Study of the Elderly (HEPESE) is the largest ongoing investigation in the U.S. of changes in functional status, disability, psychological and behavioral outcomes in Mexican American older adults. The Mexican Health and Aging Study (MHAS) started as a prospective panel study of health and aging in Mexico to examine the aging process and its disease and the impact of social and environmental factors on health outcomes.

Muscle Aging

Research focuses on the mechanisms that lead to loss of muscle mass, strength, function, and independence in older adults and the identification of targets for interventions to preserve independence and accelerate functional recovery from illness. The Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, continuously funded since 2000, focuses on improving physical function and independence in older adults. The focus has evolved over the years from a narrow interest in the mechanisms of sarcopenia to the translation of our findings in patient-centered interventions to improve physical function and independence in older adults.

This area of research examines physical activity, psychological well-being and functional independence in individuals with disabilities and/or chronic disease. Research takes place in both inpatient and outpatient settings among individuals who are participating in exercise programs or rehabilitation interventions.

Comparative Effectiveness & Patient-Centered Outcomes

Current studies include the Comparative Effectiveness Research Center (CERCIT) and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research (PCORI). The CERCIT is a multidisciplinary consortium of investigators at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), MD Anderson Cancer Center, Rice University and the Texas Department of State Health Services Texas Cancer Registry. CERCIT is funded by the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). The goal of the project is to create a statewide resource for outcomes and comparative effectiveness research in cancer for Texas. The PCOR Center contributes to both national and local efforts by generating data relevant to decision making across disease processes and medical care settings. Important goals of this work are to include on-going input and collaboration with patients and other stakeholders, and to identify or develop systems that reduce racial, ethnic and age associated disparities in health outcomes using patient-centered approaches.

Cognitive and Neurological Approaches

Examines basic and applied mechanisms of cognitive and neurological rehabilitation. A collaborative relationship exists with the Transitional Learning Center (TLC), a residential facility for persons with acquired brain injury. Rehabilitation research faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and students have the opportunity to conduct research in a variety of areas related to cognitive rehabilitation with faculty and professional staff involved with the TLC. The TLC also provides opportunities to participate in experiences involving persons with disabilities and community advocacy activities.

Mechanisms associated with muscle function including protein synthesis, muscle metabolism, cell signaling, the role of essential amino acids and exercise associated with muscle growth and regeneration are investigated. Research efforts assist in the quantification and evaluation of rehabilitation outcomes, integrating research information and activities in muscle biology, motor control, and applied physiology with basic rehabilitation practice.

Nutrition and Muscle Metabolism

Overarching theme focuses on the role of nutritional supplements and physical activity in human muscle performance. Current studies examine amino acids in muscle protein synthesis and protein supplementation and exercise training contributions to muscle strength, growth, and function. Research in this area will improve our understanding of the physical, molecular, genetic, cellular, and tissue bases of muscle generation that to contribute to increase risk for injury and associated diseases.

MoTrPAC

The primary aim of MoTrPAC is to 'extensively catalogue the biological molecules affected by physical activity in people, identify some of the key molecules that underlie the systemic effects of physical activity, and characterize the function of these key molecules. This molecular map will help us understand how physical activity translates into better health'. Read more about the recently established University of Texas Adult Clinical Center (UTACC) for the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium (MoTrPAC).

Muscle Aging

Research focuses on the mechanisms that lead to loss of muscle mass, strength, function, and independence in older adults. The overall goal of these investigations is to improve muscle function and functional recovery in older adults and determine prevention and treatment of muscle dysfunction and disability. The Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, continuously funded since 2000, is a major project contributing to the area of muscle aging research.

Rehabilitation outcomes and/or the relationship of personal attributes, clinical characteristics, or risk factors on health related and disability outcomes using large national databases or population-based surveys are investigated.

Post-acute Care and Rehabilitation Outcomes

Ongoing investigations examine hospital readmission for people receiving post-acute care services (inpatient rehabilitation, sub-acute rehabilitation in skilled nursing facilities, and care from home health agencies). Research also examines the impact of healthcare reform on service delivery. The findings from these investigations will provide information useful in establishing quality indicators for post-acute care and the allocation of resources for persons at high risk for rehospitalization. The results will also address priorities of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act by identifying strategies to reduce health care costs.

Hispanic Health

Hispanic health research uses a population-based perspective, in which the social and economic context and the behavior of individuals play a central role in the study of how health changes as people age. The Hispanic Established Populations Epidemiological Study of the Elderly (HEPESE) is the largest ongoing investigation in the U.S. of changes in functional status, disability, psychological and behavioral outcomes in Mexican American older adults. This population-based national survey, continuously funded by the National Institute on Aging since 1993, estimates prevalence and incidence of health conditions and disabilities related to mortality and change in health over time. More than 200 articles have been published using Hispanic EPESE data and many of these articles focus on disability related issues.

The Mexican Health and Aging Study (MHAS) started as a prospective panel study of health and aging in Mexico to examine the aging process and its disease and the impact of social and environmental factors on health outcomes. Another study examines the long-term health outcomes, healthcare utilization, and life expectancy of Mexican American older adults with a focus on the impact of frailty and disability.

Large Data and Data Sharing

In addition to the studies/datasets mentioned above, research and training opportunities are available through the Center for Large Data Research and Data Sharing in Rehabilitation (CLDR), an extension of the previously funded Center for Rehabilitation Research using Large Datasets. The CLDR continues to build scientific capacity in large data research and has expanded to include an important focus on data sharing and archiving information from completed rehabilitation research studies. This new focus addresses recent federal requirements for sharing information and data from research studies supported by government funding.

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