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  • APTA, NIH Celebrate Rehab Research Plan

    Has rehabilitation research arrived at a turning point? Very possibly, according to speakers who helped APTA celebrate the completion of the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) rehabilitation research plan, a comprehensive reset of approaches and priorities that supporters believe will help to power up investigations into restoring function.

    2016 - 12 - 13 - NIH 1
    APTA CEO Justin Moore, PT, DPT, welcomed the audience at the briefing.

    The celebration came in the form of a congressional briefing held on Capitol Hill December 8. Sponsored by APTA and other members of the Disability Rehabilitation Research Coalition, the event featured remarks from Rep Greg Harper (MS–3rd), Rep Jim Langevin (RI-2nd), Allison Cernich, director of the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research (NCMRR) at NIH, and Rebecca Craik, PT, PhD, FAPTA, co-chair of the NIH blue ribbon panel that guided the creation of the 5-year plan. Craik is a former editor in chief of Physical Therapy, APTA's scientific journal.

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    Rep Jim Langevin, from Rhode Island, speaks at the congressional
    briefing on NIH rehabilitation research.

    Craik described the factors that led to the creation of the new plan, telling the audience about a 2011 review of the NCMRR research plan that hadn't been updated since its creation in 1993, as well as a general environmental scan of research taking place. Despite the age of the plan, reviewers found the state of rehabilitation research to be "pretty good," Craik said, but agreed that much more could be done to create and support an up-to-date, well-coordinated research effort.

    "NCMRR was functioning, but it certainly wasn't thriving," Craik said. "And we thought it had incredible opportunities to thrive."

    Cernich told attendees that the recommendations of the blue ribbon panel around an updated plan have led to the creation of a roadmap that will not only allow NCMRR to thrive, but will set the stage for a new era of collaboration across NIH institutes and other centers.

    "We're making efforts to understand gaps in the field," Cernich said. "We will talk across institutes and centers about the state of the science, where we are going together, and how we can use the science we're doing at each of these institutes to inform the work of the other—and then how do we let the community know what the opportunities are across the NIH."

    The plan was unveiled in September, and was given a boost by way of the 21st Century Cures Act recently approved by both the House and Senate. APTA was a strong supporter of both the plan and increased funding for rehabilitation research.

    The December 8 briefing also included a presentation from Josh Rouch, a patient who shared his rehabilitation journey after suffering a traumatic brain injury. In describing what worked and what didn't, Rouch pointed to the value of rehabilitation research as a way to identify patient-centered paths to regaining function.

    Rouch's story underscored what both Cernich and Craik reminded the audience: this isn't highly theoretical, ivory tower stuff. Rehabilitation researchers are often engaged in projects with immediate applications that make a difference in people's lives in the here-and-now. As an example, Cernich cited the GoBabyGo! initiative founded by Cole Galloway, PT, PhD, FAPTA, which "hacks" commonly available children's ride-on cars to create devices that can help even very young children achieve greater mobility.

    "This project is not only about mobility…what Cole's done is put them in the driver's seat, literally," Cernich said. "They have the social, cognitive, and emotional curiosity of any other child, and what his research is doing is putting them with their peers. They get to drive, and kids are running after them. That's where we want children with disabilities to be."

    Craik pointed to the ways that rehab research enriches overall efforts to understand diseases and conditions, using colon cancer research as an example. Some researchers look into the mechanisms related to the disease, while others research treatment—what she called a "bench to bedside" approach.

    "But what's missing?" Craik asked the audience. "You don't want to stay in the bed. After you've had a cure from colon cancer what's going to happen? How do we restore the function that the person had prior to the colon cancer?" Those are the kinds of questions rehab research investigates, she said.

    Cernich said that the boost to rehabilitation research couldn't have happened without the support of NIH efforts from stakeholders, including APTA.

    "You're going to be the ones that represent the 20% of the American population that lives with a disability, and the 40% that care for them," Cernich said. "We cherish that and we appreciate you being their voice."

    Cosponsors of the briefing included the Brain Injury Association, the Association of Rehabilitation Nurses, the American Occupational Therapy Association, the American Speech Language Pathology Association, the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, the United Spinal Association, the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine, the American Music Therapy Association, and the American Therapeutic Recreation Association.




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