Logo: University of Southern California

Rehab Grant

September 30, 2004 —

 Researchers from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering will be part of a new, interdisciplinary "Exploratory Center" for stroke rehabilitation research funded by a $1.8 million National Institutes of Health grant.

"Each year in the United States over 700,000 people suffer a stroke, and nearly 450,000 survive with some form of neurologic impairment or disability," said Thomas McNeill, professor of cell and neurobiology and neurology at the Keck School of Medicine, who is the principle investigator on the USC center.

Michael Arbib and Albert "Skip" Rizzo of the Viterbi School will be part of the team of nine researchers — seven from USC, and two from the University of Texas, Austin — who will join McNeill in the effort.


Arbib, who holds the Fletcher Jones Chair of Computer Science as well as the title of University Professor, also holds appointments in the departments of biomedical engineering, electrical engineering, as well as the USC College Department of Biological Sciences. He is a specialist in using computer tools to model and decipher brain function.  

Rizzo, who is affiliated with the Integrated Media Systems Center (IMSC), has pioneered the use of virtual environments and "Immersadata" for diagnosis and therapy of various conditions.

The team also includes haptics specialist Margaret McLaughlin, who has a joint appointment in IMSC and the Annenberg School for Communication.

McNeill said the group will begin by focusing on rehabilitation strategies for the arm and hand in people who have survived a stroke. “Statistics indicate that almost 80 percent of people who suffer a first time stroke have impairment of the upper limb that significantly impacts functional independence, health and quality of life for stroke survivors,” McNeill explains.

Viterbi expertise will play a key role. “In parallel with our clinical and animal studies, we will develop novel virtual environment tests that can assess and rehabilitate human functional performance under a range of conditions that are not easily deliverable and controllable in the real world, as well as, computational models of reach and grasp with the capacity to predict neuroplastic events related to cortical reorganization after stroke and following rehabilitation," McNeill said.


The other participants in the center in addition to McNeill include:

  • Carolee Winstein, Department of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, Independent Health Professions, USC
  • Helena Chui, Department of Neurology, Keck School of Medicine of USC
  • Theresa Jones, Department of Psychology, University of Texas, Austin
  • Tim Schallert, Department of Psychology, University of Texas, Austin
  • Nicolas Schweighofer, Department of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, Independent Health Professions, USC
  • Stan Azen, Ph.D., Department of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC

The center is part of a new initiative, led by the National Center for Research Resources, the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research that was unveiled by NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., in 2002. Exploratory centers for interdisciplinary research like USC's are being established under what are called "P20 grants." If successful, such exploratory centers may eventually receive the more traditional and highly coveted NIH center grants.

“With these new Exploratory Centers, we hope to remove roadblocks to collaboration so that a true meeting of minds can take place that will broaden the scope of investigation, yield fresh and possibly unexpected insights, and create solutions to biomedical problems that have not been solved using traditional, disciplinary approaches,” Zerhouni said in announcing t21 new grants, including the one to USC.

The NIH Roadmap is a series of far-reaching initiatives designed to transform the nation’s medical research capabilities and speed the movement of research discoveries from the bench to the bedside. It provides a framework of the priorities the NIH must address in order to optimize its entire research portfolio and lays out a vision for a more efficient and productive system of medical research.
For more information about the NIH Roadmap, please visit the Web site at http://www.nihroadmap.nih.gov.