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Kessler Foundation Awarded $3 Million from the N.J. Commission on Brain Injury Research

green model head with top cut off to show brain


WEST ORANGE, N.J.—June 29, 2015—The New Jersey Commission on Brain Injury Research awarded $3 million in grants to Kessler Foundation, half of its total grant distribution in 2015, to improve cognition and mobility of individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI).

"We are honored by the Commission's tremendous support of our research scientists at Kessler Foundation," said John DeLuca, Ph.D., senior vice president for Research and Training. "All of the studies funded by these grants share common themes: Discoveries can easily be translated into patient care and create lasting change in quality of life. By improving mobility, memory, learning and processing, individuals affected by brain injury will gain independence and increase their involvement in the community and in the workplace."

Jean Lengenfelder, Ph.D., assistant director of TBI Research, and Helen Genova, Ph.D., research scientist, received $506,322 to investigate a treatment for emotional processing deficits after TBI. Difficulties in identifying emotions from facial expressions, such as a smile or frown, negatively impact social interactions, mood and quality of life. Dr. Lengenfelder will apply an emotional processing training protocol, proven effective for autism and schizophrenia, in individuals with TBI. They will assess effects on emotional processing, as well as on psychological, neuropsychological and functional abilities.

Guang Yue, Ph.D., director of Human Performance and Engineering Research, received $1,918,684 to lead a multi-investigator study on recovery from balance dysfunction after TBI. Researchers will develop a comprehensive computer algorithm for an efficient and accurate classification of brain injury. They will also work to improve the understanding of neurophysiological adaptations—how the brain responds to stimulus and relays messages to the body—and neural plasticity—the brain’s ability to form new connections to compensate for an injury—and their relation with balance dysfunction and sensorimotor performance. Researchers will then develop a targeted, strategic intervention for the specific type of injury, evaluate its effects in treating balance dysfunction and measure the effects on the brain and neuromuscular system.

Cherylynn Marino, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow, received $198,645 to examine the efficacy of a mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) program in children and adolescents with TBI. Some young people internalize struggles they face after an injury, often causing social withdrawal, depression and anxiety; others externalize their problems, resulting in impulsive behavior and aggression. For the study, children and adolescents will be assigned to the MBCT group or the control group. Meeting twice a week for 12 weeks, the groups will provide a comfortable therapeutic environment for individuals to learn techniques to self-regulate their emotions and behaviors. Dr. Marino’s goal is to develop an evidence base for a noninvasive therapy to treat these common social and emotional difficulties after brain injury so that adolescents are prepared for healthy personal and professional lives as adults.

James Sumowski, Ph.D., senior research scientist, received $175,623 to pilot a randomized controlled trial to investigate whether retrieval practice training (RPT) improves learning in adolescents with memory impairments after TBI. Existing research supports retrieval practice as an effective strategy to improve learning and memory in college undergraduates without disabilities. Because learning and memory impairments are common after TBI, the goal of this trial is to obtain evidence that RPT is an effective tool that leads to improved academic performance and the attainment of higher education and employment.

Karen Nolan, Ph.D., research scientist, received $178,420 to pilot a study that determines how utilizing a robotic exoskeleton for walking therapy improves mobility in adolescents with TBI. Many injuries result in lifetime mobility impairments. Dr. Nolan believes that applying exoskeleton-assisted walking in the inpatient rehabilitation setting will improve mobility, function, social participation and quality of life of young people with TBI. 

Kessler Foundation researchers have faculty appointments at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. In addition, Dr. Nolan is an affiliated faculty member at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Drs. Marino, Sumowski and Nolan are also affiliated with Children's Specialized Hospital. 

About Kessler Foundation
Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility and long-term outcomes, including employment, for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. For more information, visit

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