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Kessler Foundation awarded 6 grants by New Jersey Commission on Brain Injury Research

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Researchers received six grants totaling nearly $2.0 million to investigate novel ways to improve quality of life for individuals with traumatic brain injury and their caregivers

EAST HANOVER, N.J. June 4, 2019 – Kessler scientists received six grants from the New Jersey Commission on Brain Injury Research, totaling nearly $2 million, more than half of the Commission’s 2019 funding of $3.7 million. Denise Krch, PhD, Anthony Lequerica, PhD, and Rakesh Pilkar, PhD, received individual research grants. Vikram Shenoy Handiru, PhD, Erica Weber, PhD, and Glenn Wylie, DPhil, were awarded pilot study grants. Their studies are based on a variety of novel approaches aimed at improving the lives of individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and their caregivers.

Individual research grants address caregiver grief, sleep and learning, and balance dysfunction 

Dr. Krch, senior research scientist in the Center for Traumatic Brain Injury Research, received a 3-year grant of $490,379 for her study titled, “Life re-entry to improve grief and fear in partner caregivers of individuals with traumatic brain injury.” Partners of people with traumatic brain injury often report feelings of grief and fear as they experience the loss of their former life, face changes in their relationship as they take on a caregiver role, and juggle multiple new responsibilities. Dr. Krch will examine the potential benefits of a 6-week web-based grief counseling program in a randomized trial of 92 partner caregivers. Participants will be randomly assigned to either the grief program or an education series about health and function in people with traumatic brain injury. The two online options differ only in the content of the classes. “This online grief program may have advantages over traditional support groups,” said Dr. Krch. “Our goal is to identify optimal ways to empower partner caregivers with the strategies and skills they need to support their loved ones, and move forward with the business of living.”

Dr. Lequerica, senior research scientist in the Center for Traumatic Brain Injury Research, received a 3-year grant of $411,672 for his study, “Investigation of neural mechanisms associated with sleep-dependent enhancement of motor learning after brain injury.” Impaired learning is a common consequence of TBI that impedes rehabilitation and recovery. Procedural learning, in particular, is essential to relearning motor skills that comprise the many activities of daily living. Recent research in healthy individuals showed that napping after a period of training on a novel motor learning task boosted performance. Using functional neuroimaging and brainwave analyses, Dr. Lequerica and co-investigator Ekaterina Dobryakova, PhD, will study the underlying mechanisms to determine whether strategic napping helps individuals with TBI learn a well-established Motor Sequence Learning task. “Furthering our understanding of this mechanism will help us determine who may benefit from this behavioral intervention,” he said, “and how to implement this in clinical rehabilitation settings.” 

Dr. Pilkar, research scientist in the Center for Mobility and Rehabilitation Engineering Research, received a 3-year grant for $534,045 for his study, “Improving anticipatory and compensatory postural responses to avoid falls after traumatic brain injury.” Trauma to the brain significantly affects the person’s ability to achieve balance during environmental disturbances (slippery floor, standing in a moving bus etc.). The ability to generate anticipatory (proactive) or compensatory (reactive) balance strategies in response to these disturbances is also impaired. The objective of this study is to enhance these responses to improve balance function and reduce the risk of falls. “We will determine the effectiveness of balance training using a computerized platform, along with visual help for anticipating and reacting to challenges to maintaining balance,” explained Dr. Pilkar. “If we find that this novel intervention is successful, this would provide a strong rationale for clinicians and researchers to include anticipation-based training along with compensatory tasks in rehabilitation of individuals with balance dysfunction after TBI.”

Pilot study grants address deficits in upper limb function, memory problems, and fatigue

Dr. Shenoy Handiru, postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Mobility and Rehabilitation Engineering Research, received a 2-year award for $176,233 for the pilot study, “Targeted noninvasive brain stimulation for upper-limb motor rehabilitation after TBI.” Moderate and severe traumatic brain injury commonly cause upper extremity impairments that persist even years after injury. With conventional rehabilitation approaches, nearly half of survivors do not regain their ability to use their arms for daily activities. Dr. Shenoy Handiru will investigate the combined use of individually targeted noninvasive brain stimulation and music-assisted video game-based hand exercises to achieve functional recovery.  The effects of the intervention on brain activity (recorded using EEG) will provide information on brain connectivity before and after the intervention. “Ultimately, this study will add to our understanding of the cortical dynamics of TBI rehabilitation,” explained Dr. Shenoy Handiru, “and could advance our knowledge of behavioral and neural aspects of motor control in persons with different types of neuromuscular disorders.”

Dr. Weber, research scientist in the Center for Traumatic Brain Injury Research, received a 2-year grant of $179,035 for her pilot study, “Improving time-based prospective memory in individuals with traumatic brain injury using computer-based cognitive rehabilitation.” Many survivors of TBI must rely on others for daily care due to significant brain damage and cognitive difficulties. One specific cognitive deficit is in the area of prospective memory, which is the ability to remember to do something in the future (or “remembering to remember”). Individuals with poor prospective memory often forget to take their medications, have difficulty staying employed, rely more heavily on others for daily assistance, and tend to report a lower quality of life. This study will test a new rehabilitation strategy (computer-based cognitive training) for rehabilitation of prospective memory. “If we find improvement, we will seek funding for a larger scale study,” said Dr. Weber, “to demonstrate how this training may improve how people function in their everyday lives, and how long those effects persist. By improving everyday cognitive abilities, individuals with TBI may become more independent and experience greater quality of life.”

Dr. Wylie, director of the Rocco Ortenzio Neuroimaging Center at Kessler Foundation, received a 2-year grant of $174,197 for the pilot study, “An investigation of the interaction of physical and mental fatigue in TBI.” For individuals with TBI, physical and mental fatigue are major contributors to disability. Using the state-of-the-art functional neuroimaging techniques of the Ortenzio Neuroimaging Center, Kessler Foundation scientists have identified a network of brain areas consistently associated with mental fatigue in traumatic brain injury. This study will look at the interaction of mental fatigue and physical fatigue in healthy individuals, and assess the impact of traumatic brain injury on this interaction. “Although individuals with TBI often experience both mental and physical fatigue, each type of fatigue has been studied in isolation,” remarked Dr. Wylie. “This study, the first to look at the interaction of these types of fatigue after TBI, is an important step toward finding ways to alleviate these debilitating symptoms and improve overall quality of life for individuals and their caregivers.”

Funding: New Jersey Commission on Brain Injury Research grants CBIR19IRG-037, CBIR19IRG-029, CBIR19IRG-033; CBIR19PIL-014, CBIR19PIL-021, CBIR19PIL-018

About the New Jersey Commission on Brain Injury Research

The New Jersey Commission on Brain Injury Research promotes the necessary research that will result in the treatment and cure for traumatic injuries of the brain, thereby giving hope to an ever increasing number of residents who suffer the debilitating effects of this injury. To achieve these goals the Commission will encourage and promote significant, original research projects in New Jersey emphasizing nerve regeneration as a means to a cure for brain injury through the funding of approved research projects at qualifying research institutions in the state. In addition, the Commission will establish and maintain, in conjunction with the New Jersey Department of Health, a central registry of all persons who sustain traumatic brain injuries. The New Jersey Commission on Brain Injury Research, whose members are appointed by the Governor, was established on January 2, 2004, with the passage of the "Brain Injury Research Act" by the New Jersey State Legislature.

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 employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

For more information on Kessler Foundation's research, visit

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