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University of Pittsburgh Awarded $4.75 Million Grant to Improve Treatment of Spinal Cord Injuries


The U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research has awarded a $4.75 million grant to the University of Pittsburgh to create the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Spinal Cord Injury.

The University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) designed the center to address significant issues for people with spinal cord injury. The RERC team and collaborators include the department of rehabilitation science and technology, the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the department of occupational therapy at the University of Pittsburgh, in addition to Case Western Reserve University, Northwestern University, Baylor College of Medicine, IBM and Immunetrics.

Spinal cord injuries result in a particularly debilitating array of conditions that compromise mobility, accessibility, social interactions, employment and other important dimensions of life. The RERC will research, develop and evaluate innovative technologies and approaches to improve the treatment, rehabilitation, employment and reintegration into society of people with spinal cord injuries.

One critical focus of the RERC’s research will be to create mathematical models of inflammation and healing, which can vary extensively among individuals. “We believe that the occurrence of pressure ulcers, urinary tract infection and musculoskeletal injuries that stem from spinal cord injury can be attributed to systemic inflammation,” said David M. Brienza, Ph.D., director of the center and professor in the department of rehabilitation science and technology at the University of Pittsburgh. “We also believe that it is necessary to understand and be able to predict responses to inflammation in order to develop novel, patient-specific therapies for spinal cord injury.”

These models may be used to develop novel technologies for detecting pressure ulcers and preventing shoulder injuries among wheelchair users, to improve evaluation of bladder function and musculoskeletal injuries and to assess therapies for individual patients. In addition, the RERC will disseminate information, train future researchers and transfer technology concepts to manufacturers.

Faculty from the departments of surgery and critical care medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, collaborating with SHRS researchers, have pioneered the computational approaches to develop and calibrate models of the inflammatory process. “We now have four substantial grants that are based on computational simulation and modeling inflammation,” noted Clifford E. Brubaker, Ph.D., dean of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “I believe that this research will have important and pervasive influences on the formulation of new therapeutic procedures and the practice of rehabilitation.”

The Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology (RST) was established within the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh in 1994. RST was created to provide leadership in research, education and clinical practice related to the rehabilitation of individuals with disabilities. Today, RST continues this commitment to rehabilitation through its exemplary graduate education programs, world-class research initiatives and strong, consumer-oriented clinical and community programs. The department houses a clinical center for assistive technology and several national research centers focused on improving critical technology that enables people with disabilities to go about their daily lives. For more information about RST and SHRS, visit the school’s Web site at


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