Rehabilitation Medicine Team Wins Spinal Cord Injury Model Systems Grant

A research team in the Miller School’s Department of Rehabilitation Medicine has been awarded a federal Spinal Cord Injury Model Systems (SCIMS) grant for more than $2 million over the next five years. The grant, funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, Department of Education, is aimed at moving spinal cord research forward by studying the course of recovery and outcomes following the delivery of a coordinated system of care for spinal cord injury patients.

The Miller School is among 14 sites nationally that were awarded the prestigious SCIMS grant through a highly competitive selection process. Diana D. Cardenas, M.D., M.H.A., professor and chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, the grant’s principal investigator, will serve as project director. Co-principal investigators Larry Brooks, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist who is assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine, and Mark Nash, Ph.D., professor of neurological surgery and rehabilitation medicine, will serve as co-directors.

“It is an excellent achievement and recognition for the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine to receive such a grant,” said Dr. Cardenas, who will join other project directors at the White House next month to discuss recommendations from last June’s International Conference on Spinal Cord Medicine & Rehabilitation “State of the Science” meeting.

“The award speaks to the high level of research that we have proposed and to the commitment and excellence of our spinal cord injury teams at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where we provide acute trauma care, in-patient rehabilitation, and community follow-up,” added Dr. Cardenas, who also received a congratulatory letter from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida. “With this grant we will be able to expand our educational efforts to patients with spinal cord injury and to other health care professionals.”

Under the program, grantees will work locally on UM-specific projects and on a separate collaborative project with colleagues from other SCIMS sites across the country.

Dr. Cardenas will lead the Miller School research project, which will include a longitudinal study of shoulder pathology after acute spinal cord injury and a randomized controlled trial for shoulder pathology and pain in chronic spinal cord injury patients. Part of the research will look at using ultrasound as a means of assessing particular shoulder problems. Some spinal cord injury patients, especially those who use wheelchairs, rely heavily on the use of their shoulders, which can lead to shoulder pain. Robert W. Irwin, M.D., assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine, Elizabeth Felix, Ph.D., research assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine, and Rachel Cowan, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow, will work with Dr. Cardenas on the study.

The details of the second project will be known after members of the UM team meet with their counterparts from the other SCIMS institutions. Dr. Brooks, who will be the lead UM researcher on the multi-site study, notes that UM already has excellent examples of inter-department collaboration which have been highly regarded among spinal cord injury experts across the country.

”I believe Dr. Cardenas’ past research experience as a model system project director and the spinal cord injury clinical research recently and currently being conducted both internally at UM and in collaboration with other centers nationally played an important role in our success,” said Dr. Brooks.

The Miller School has long been recognized as one of the academic medical centers at the forefront of spinal cord injury research. Many faculty physicians and researchers conduct robust clinical studies in the rehabilitation medicine department, which is closely aligned with Jackson Memorial Hospital, and at The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, the internationally known Miller School-based Center of Excellence where both Cardenas and Nash have joint appointments.

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