Exploring New Frontiers

Rehabilitation research is the engine that drives improvement in patient care, treatment and outcomes. It is a powerful tool that allows us to explore the science of recovery, helping to advance functional restoration and quality of life in individuals with a range of life-changing injuries and diseases. Furthermore, it provides us with greater understand the human condition and the opportunity to push the boundaries of human potential.

At Baylor Scott and White Institute for Rehabilitation (BSWIR), our team of research scientists, physicians and clinicians are relentless in their pursuit of the discovery, translation and application of new knowledge – and even a pandemic did not change that focus.

“Innovative thinking and flexibility are two critical factors in the research world,” said Katherine Froelich-Grobe, Ph.D., director of rehabilitation research, BSWIR.  “Because of that, we were able to adapt quickly to the limitations that COVID-19 presented and continue to work on current studies. In addition, we were awarded new funding, which brings our current grant-funded projects to ten.”

One robust line of funded research is focusing on a theory-based, intensive lifestyle intervention – the Group Lifestyle Balance Program – to improve the overall health of those living with spinal cord,1 brain,2 and cerebrovascular disease3 through testing the feasibility and effectiveness of the program to improve health outcomes among those groups.

“Our research teams and participants all remained nimble and connected throughout the pandemic, allowing us to continue the studies. The teams shifted seamlessly from in-person to virtual delivery and the participants were highly engaged in attending the program meetings. So far, the data confirms the impact of making lifestyle changes in helping individuals achieve weight loss and improve other health determinants,” said Froelich-Grobe.

A second robust line of research is investigating various technological approaches to improving rehabilitation.4 BSWIR Research Scientist Chad Swank, Ph.D., PT, is collaborating with the hospital’s inpatient and outpatient clinical teams to examine whether robotic gait training can lead to better outcomes than traditional training for neurologic patients and how this technology can feasibly be implemented in these settings.

2020 Research Funding

Research changing lives

In September of 2020, BSWIR received three grants from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), which will support our goals of developing evidence-based approaches to improving the health and function of our patient populations.

  • Spinal cord injury (SCI): A randomized, controlled trial to examine outcomes of SCI patients receiving robotic gait training vs. traditional therapies during their inpatient stay will be led by Dr. Swank.
  • Spinal cord injury: A multi-site study on a virtual exercise program for individuals with SCI will be expanded to 16-weeks. Dr. Froelich-Grobe, Mike Jones, Ph.D, FACRM, Shepherd Center and Jeanne Zanca, Ph.D., MPT, Kessler Foundation are collaborating on this study, which will be facilitated by SCI peer counselors who participated in the original NIDILRR-funded trial (#90IF0106).
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI): A five-year, multi-site grant will develop, refine and test the feasibility of a chronic disease model for traumatic brain injury. Simon Driver, Ph.D., director of rehabilitation research and the Ginger Murchison Chair for Traumatic Brain Injury Research at BSWIR, is one of several TBI model system collaborators involved in this study. It is being led by Flora Hammond, M.D., the Indiana University School of Medicine.
Sharing knowledge

Disseminating findings is a critical component of rehabilitation research. In 2020, that meant moving in-person presentations to virtual platforms at key national conferences, including the American Spinal Cord Injury Professionals (ASCIP), American Heart Association (AHA), American Congress on Rehabilitation Medicine (ACRM), and American Public Health Association. In all, our teams delivered more than 33 presentations.

Two notable presentations were made to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Swank presented a poster on the health status at baseline of acquired brain injury participants enrolled in an intensive lifestyle program at the NIH’s “Rehabilitation Research 2020: Envisioning a Functional Future” meetingsponsored by the National Center of Medical Rehabilitation Research and others. Dr. Froehlich-Grobe participated in a panel on “Can Physical Activity Improve the Health of Wheelchair Users?” at the NIH Health Pathways to Prevention Workshop. She discussed the need for investigators to track and report adverse health events that occur during physical activity studies.

The BSWIR research team also shared their finding in key peer-reviewed publications. The team published 13 articles in 2020 focusing on the lifestyle adaptations program for individuals with stroke, improved outcomes for those with mobility impairment and spinal cord injury, and other studies. These articles appeared in Topics in Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation, Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine, Journal of Neurotrauma, Brain Injury and the American Journal of Preventive Medicine among others. Additionally, Dr. Froehlich-Grobe co-edited the second edition of a textbook, Public Health Perspectives on Disability including a chapter she co-authored with BSWIR research team members on Social Determinants of Health. It was published in November of 2020.

“Although 2020 had its challenges,” said Dr. Froelich-Grobe, “it also had its share of rewards in that we continued to find new avenues of care and treatment that will improve the lives – and quality of life – of our patient populations.”

NIDILRR grant #90IFRE0022, PI K. Froehlich-Grobe
2 NIDILRR grant #90DPTB0013, PI S. Driver
3 NIDILRR grant #90IFRE0021, PI S. Driver
NIDILRR grant #90IFRE0043, PI C. Swank


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