Featured Specialty: Rehabilitating the Brain and Body

From physical to psychiatric disorders, Institute scientists strive to understand the mechanisms of how health works and what goes wrong in disease. Once they can explain the underlying causes, the researchers can begin to develop therapeutic interventions to help individuals rehabilitate.

Institute investigators use such approaches as real-time functional magnetic resonance brain imaging, noninvasive neuromodulation, transcranial magnetic stimulation, electroencephalography, behavioral training, constraint-induced movement therapy, stem-cell activation, molecular therapies, tissue engineering, and cognitive therapies, including working memory training.

Dr. Michael Friedlander, the institute’s executive director, leads research into the biological mechanisms of how the brain’s cerebral cortex processes, learns, and stores information. He seeks both to understand how early life experiences shape those processes and to devise new ways to activate brain regions damaged by injury.

Scientists are working to rehabilitate damaged cardiac cells, as well. Dr. Robert Gourdie focuses on researching the basic building blocks of the cardiovascular conduction system and developing techniques to help heal them. While studying how cardiac cells communicate, Dr. Gourdie invented a peptide that was discovered to quicken healing times. He's now researching how the peptide might be applied to other aspects of regenerative medicine.

Dr. Alexei Morozov studies the neural components of social behaviors. He aims to identify the neural circuitry that underlies empathy to understand how its disrupted In psychiatric disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, psychopathy, and schizophrenia. The knowledge Dr. Morozov gains could be used to develop rehabilitative treatments in clinical settings.

Dr. Sharon Ramey and Dr. Stephanie DeLuca work with children with cerebral palsy to rehabilitate disused limbs. Immobilizing the stronger limb can help the child's brain relearn movement and encourage use of the other limb.

In neurological disorders, several researchers are studying how to best aid an individual in retraining their own brain. For example, Dr. Stephen LaConte, uses functional magnetic resonance imaging to show people with traumatic brain injuries their brain activity during a mental task. The feedback teaches people to modify their neural activity.