CERSE Communications

The Center for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering (CERSE) is excited to share it's first monthly email newsletter! See below for a message from our Executive Director, some exciting news and more.

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Message from CERSE
Executive Director
Dear Colleagues,

I hope you and your families are healthy and managing the COVID-related changes that have affected our lives. I am pleased to send you our first VCU Center for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering (CERSE) monthly newsletter. In this newsletter, we highlight 2019 and early 2020 accomplishments.

In 2019, CERSE faculty and affiliated researchers reached 77 grant awards and over $116M in total sponsored research funding. We submitted 82 grants, of which 34 have been funded to date; total awards on these 34 funded grants are $81.5M. CERSE’s diversified grant portfolio includes federal, state, and private agency funding. CERSE’s interdisciplinary research collaborations include over 100 researchers across 3 institutions, 8 schools/ colleges, 6 centers/institutes, and 24 VCU departments. CERSE added 4 full-time faculty and hired two full-time research administrative staff to meet pre- and post-award grant administration and operational demands. I highlight a few of our 2019-2020 research team’s accomplishments below.
  • CERSE researchers are recipients of several prestigious federal grants. David Cifu, MD, is PI of a new, 5-year, $50M Department of Defense/ Department of Veterans Affairs co-funded federal grant award, “Long-term Impact of Military-relevant Brain Injury Consortium”(LIMBIC). Paul Wehman, Ph.D., dually appointed in PM&R/CERSE and the School of Education, is PI of two new Rehabilitation Research and Training Center Awards ($8.8M) entitled, “Employment of Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD),” and “Transition to Employment for Youth with Disabilities.”
  • CERSE added 4 full-time faculty to expand our expertise in health services, assistive technology and mobile health research. Amol Karmarkar, MPH, PhD, Professor, provides expertise and leadership in health services, post-acute care, and rehabilitation outcomes research. Zina Trost, Ph.D., Associate Professor, adapts Virtual Reality and Gaming Technologies to improve pain and rehabilitation outcomes for people with Chronic Low Back Pain, Spinal Cord Injury, and neurodegenerative diseases. Kristin Graham, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, specializes in TBI, mobile health, and behavioral intervention research. Ashraf Gorgey, Ph.D., Associate Professor, is dually appointed at VCU and McGuire VAMC; he is a national research leader in invasive and non-invasive neuromodulation technology to improve SCI mobility and health outcomes.
  • Our CERSE interdisciplinary research collaborations expanded across VCU schools and colleges. The CERSE-Biomedical Engineering research collaboration co-led by Hank Donahue, PhD, submitted multiple grant submissions, co-sponsored a $25K interdisciplinary research pilot grant program, and sponsored two invited educational rounds with NIDILRR and VHA RR&D grant program officers. The CERSE-Physical Therapy research collaboration, led by James Thomas, Ph.D., has submitted multiple center grants and has a grant in preparation with School of Nursing researchers. The NIDILRR-funded Advanced Rehabilitation Research Training Grant, PI Jeff Kreutzer, Ph.D., has funded post-doctoral fellows with lead mentors in the School of Medicine, College of Health Professions, School of Pharmacology, and the Parkinson’s Center of Excellence. We will highlight other interdisciplinary collaborations in future updates.
  • CERSE has supported research with our institutional partners. Sheltering Arms Institute rehabilitation research support includes co-leading preparatory efforts for the 2021 NIDILRR SCI Model Systems grant submission and developing health services research. Over a dozen McGuire VAMC researchers received pre-award and grant implementation support.
  • CERSE and VCU University Relations created an integrated communications approach to support communications and fundraising. We thank the 45 research leaders and stakeholders from VCU CERSE, PM&R, Engineering, Nursing, Health Professions, Education, Pharmacy, Humanities and Sciences, Wright Center, the Sheltering Arms Institute, McGuire VAMC, and industry leaders who participated in interviews and focus groups. Among the products developed our new CERSE Mission Statement: We connect researchers and accelerate rehabilitation breakthroughs that empower people to overcome barriers and thrive.
I want to thank all of you for your openness to collaborate, hard work, and dedication to helping CERSE be successful. I feel profoundly fortunate to work with a community of researchers and staff who have an egoless focus on working together and conducting research to serve those most in need.

On-going, our CERSE monthly updates will highlight news updates, research collaborations, individual researchers, and staff. I look forward to growing our collaborative research and training efforts. Stay healthy and well.

With appreciation,

Ronald T. Seel, Ph.D.
Executive Director, CERSE
Professor, PM&R, VCU School of Medicine

Exciting center news

Funding for virtual reality

The Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program recently awarded $3.7 million to Dr. Zina Trost under its Spinal Cord Injury Research portfolio. The funded multisite, international clinical trial will examine the impact of an immersive virtual reality (VR) walking intervention on chronic neuropathic pain among paraplegic individuals with spinal cord injury.

Funding for SCI treatment

The Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs awarded a grant worth $3.7 million to CERSE and the Central Virginia VA Health Care System to study the effects of spinal epidural stimulation in people with spinal cord injury. The research team, led by Dr. Ashraf Gorgey, will use spinal epidural stimulation treatment in conjunction with a robotic suit to produce better outcomes for an improved quality of life for those suffering with spinal cord injuries.

CERSE history

In 2006, David Cifu, MD, in partnership with Paul Wehman, PhD, School of Education and Brian McMahon, PhD, College of Health Professions, founded the Center for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering (CERSE) to advance rehabilitation and disability-related research. CERSE provided grant submission support for research faculty across four VCU schools. CERSE housed the CENC, a $62.5M DOD/VHA grant from 2013-18, which remains the largest grant award in VCU history. In 2017, CERSE received $3.2M from the VCU School of Medicine to further grow interdisciplinary, across campus and institution research. Ron Seel, PhD, was hired as Professor, CERSE Executive Director in November 2017. CERSE is located in VCU’s historic Egyptian building.

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