Research Themes

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The strength of the University of Minnesota's Rehabilitation Science Program rests in its research. Highly trained faculty in state-of-the-art research environments offer young scientists a competitive place to learn.

Rehab Science facilityCollaborative interactions within the University and at the state, national, and international levels provide exciting opportunities in five primary research areas:

Muscle Adaptation

Faculty in this area have a strong history in investigating skeletal muscle adaptation. A decline in skeletal muscle performance is observed in disease, aging and inactivity, yet the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms to explain the decline in performance are unknown. This research group is using animal models, biophysics, biochemistry and physiology to tease out the mechanisms responsible for the decline in function and to systematically evaluate therapeutic interventions.

This research team is funded through NIH and scientists in this area have career development awards (K02 and K01). Trainees will have an opportunity to be involved with the Muscular Dystrophy Center and the Center on Aging.

Musculoskeletal Injuries

Musculoskeletal injuries result in substantial disability and associated health care costs. Rehabilitation approaches are often non-specific and widely vary in application, due to a limited scientific basis from which to design effective therapeutic interventions. The focus of this research group is to investigate biomechanical factors contributing to musculoskeletal dysfunction in order to refine current clinical treatment approaches and develop novel scientifically founded rehabilitation interventions.

Research methods include in-vivo and cadaveric motion, force, and electromyographic analysis, and development of state of the art musculoskeletal models applied to specific clinically driven research questions. Current collaboration includes an NCMRR funded K Award. Additional collaborators include engineers and physicians within the orthopaedic department.

Outcomes of Therapeutic Intervention

This group of researchers has conducted a number of studies evaluating the outcomes of therapeutic interventions and developing/refining various outcome measurement tools. Occupational therapy interventions studied included the use of various splints for persons with rheumatoid arthritis, effects of an energy conservation course and self-care training for persons with multiple sclerosis, use of a driver simulator for persons with traumatic brain injury, and an OT Task-Oriented Approach for persons post-stroke.

Outcome measures that have been developed or refined include grip and pinch strength, dexterity (e.g., Box & Block Test & Nine Hole Peg Test), hand function (e.g., Jebsen & TEMPA), Fatigue Impact Scale, Self-efficacy for Performing Energy Conservation Strategies Assessment, etc. Faculty in this area are members and participants in the AOTA/AOTF Center of Outcomes Research & Education (CORE) located at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Only 15 occupational therapists nationally and internationally have participated in CORE.

Postural Control

Falls in the elderly and individuals with neurological deficits constitute a major health care issue in rehabilitation. Disturbances in postural control and deficits in obstacle avoidance behaviors underlie many of the problems associated with falls and fall-related injuries. The focus of this research group is to identify basic postural control mechanisms that contribute to falls, to develop experimental strategies for producing changes in these mechanisms, and to develop new therapeutic interventions to improve mobility and reduce falls.

The research methods of this group include experimental exercise intervention strategies, the analysis of eye-body coordination (including eye movement analysis coupled with kinematic data obtained from video and electromagnetic tracking devices, EMG, and kinetic data from force platform analysis). Collaborative efforts from this group have lead to joint publications, a grant from the NIA, and a grant submitted to the National Science Foundation.

Stroke Recovery and Neuroplasticity

Understanding the neural mechanisms associated with brain plasticity following stroke or other brain injuries is key to designing successful rehabilitation treatments. The focus of this research group is to investigate principles of motor learning, commonly used in the rehabilitation process, in promoting brain reorganization and recovery.

The experimental approaches used by this research group includes rehabilitation treatments, psychological studies, neurophysiological recordings, the powerful tool of functional magnetic resonance imagine (fMRI) at high field (2 and 4 Tesla magnets), and neural network modeling (using supercomputers). Collaborative efforts in this area have led to numerous presentations, publications, and NIH grants.