NJHF awards $135K to Kessler Foundation scientists for pilot research projects

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This year, New Jersey Health Foundation (NJHF) granted $135,000 in awards to three Kessler Foundation scientists to support pilot research projects that exhibit promising potential. Foundation researchers will conduct studies that expand research in web-based job interview training for youth on the autism spectrum, upper extremity robotics for individuals with chronic spinal cord injury, and adding three additional assessment items to the Kessler Foundation Neglect Assessment Process (KF-NAP®).

Ghaith J. Androwis, PhD, senior research scientist in the Center for Mobility and Rehabilitation Engineering Research and director of the Center's Rehabilitation Robotics and Research Laboratory at Kessler Foundation, received a $50,000 one-year grant for his study "Wearable Robotic Orthosis Combined with Visual/Haptic Feedback to Improve Upper Extremity Function and ADL in Persons with Chronic SCI."

Among an estimated 17,700 new traumatic SCI cases reported each year in the United States, about half of those injuries are accompanied by arm and hand movement disabilities. While numerous rehabilitation technologies, including wearable robotics, facilitate hand and arm movement for daily functioning, few undergo systematic evaluation to assess their effectiveness and therapeutic value in improving these capabilities.

"Our study will examine the effect of the wearable upper extremity robotic MyoPro orthotic on improving and recovering arm and hand movement function and activity of daily living in persons with chronic SCI," said Dr. Androwis. "In addition, the study will evaluate whether providing visual/haptic feedback while the patients are assisted with the MyoPro orthotic could improve therapeutic effects of the intervention.

"The findings from the study would support the use of integrated technologies – robotic assistance + real-time feedback – in promoting upper extremity movement function and positively impact health and welfare of people with SCI," he explained.

Peii (Peggy) Chen, senior research scientist in the Center for Stroke Rehabilitation Research and director of the Center's Spatial Attention, Awareness, and Ability Laboratory, received a one-year $50,000 grant for her study "Ecological Assessment for Chronic Spatial Neglect." Chronic spatial neglect is under-represented in research and under-treated clinically, often because chronic symptoms are often undetected by currently available standardized assessments carried out in inpatient settings.

We developed three additional assessment items (reading, pill organization, and way finding) to add to the 10-item KF-NAP," said Dr. Chen. The widely used KF-NAP uniquely measures spatial neglect during activities of daily living by assessing functional difficulties that are not captured by Functional Independence Measure (FIM™) and Barthel Index.

We'll use study results to secure federal grants for exploring the feasibility of using KF-NAP-13 in outpatient and home settings, and use it as the primary outcome measure in future clinical trials evaluating long-term functional outcomes among stroke survivors."

Dr. Peii (Peggy) Chen, senior research scientist in the Center for Stroke Rehabilitation Research and director of the Center's Spatial Attention, Awareness, and Ability Laboratory

Helen Genova, PhD, associate director in the Center for Autism Research and director of the Center's Social Cognition and Neuroscience Laboratory received a one-year, $35,000 grant for her study named "Exploring the Implementation of a Job Interview Training Program for Autistic Youth in a Real-World Setting."

"Because autistic youth face extremely high rates of unemployment, it is critical that interventions are developed to improve employment outcomes in this vulnerable population. One obstacle to employment is the job interview, which can be challenging for individuals on the spectrum," explained Dr. Genova.

"Our study will evaluate the effectiveness of an innovative web-based job interview training tool, Kessler Foundation Strength Identification and Expression (KF-STRIDE®)," said Dr. Genova. "This tool teaches autistic youth how to speak about their unique employable strengths," she added.

KF-STRIDE has been used only in lab-based settings, which limits its potential usefulness to the greater community. "Our study will evaluate KF-STRIDE in a real-world setting: a community organization that offers employment training to autistic youth," she added. "We'll assess KF-STRIDE's impact on job interview skills and employment outcomes, pre- and post-intervention. Additionally, we'll gather qualitative feedback from teachers and students in the community to gauge its real-world usability and effectiveness," explained Dr. Genova.

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