Researchers, clinicians discuss tech innovations

DOWNEY - More than 60 eminent Rehabilitation Medicine researchers and clinicians from throughout the nation presented their latest findings on subjects such as brain stimulation, robotics, stroke recovery and pain management at Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center's International Transformational Technology Summit II, held last Friday and Saturday at Rancho and the Assistance League of Downey's H.O.M.E.The event was inspired by Rancho's first International Transformational Technology Summit, which was held in 2010. "The fact that this group of highly distinguished research leaders came together again at Rancho to have a meaningful discussion about advancing science and clinical practice is a testament to Rancho's acknowledged leadership and heritage of research excellence," said Rancho CEO Jorge Orozco. The conference was sponsored by Rancho, Burke Medical Research Institute, Weill Cornell Medical College, the Los Amigos Research and Education Institute and the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation. The summit opened with a dinner workshop at H.O.M.E. featuring two high-powered speakers from the nation's capital who are the decision makers on Rehabilitation research for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF). They discussed the climate for research in Washington, their organizations' priorities for rehabilitation research, and the outlook for the future of Rehabilitation Medicine. Michael Weinrich, MD, Director of the NIH's National Center for Medical Rehabilitation, opened the conference by declaring that, "We are at the end of the neurological rehabilitation." He briefed the audience on the thinking behind projects that receive NIH funding and how funding priorities have evolved over the 12 years he's been directing NIH efforts in the rehabilitation arena, as well as some exciting new projects that are receiving NIH funding. Then Ted Conway, PhD, the Program Director of Research to Aid Persons with Disabilities at the NSF, discussed his philosophy about how to move the art and science of rehabilitation forward. "We fund projects that are at the leading edge of the research curve, and we look for projects with huge upsides," he said. "Of course, just like a biologist uses a microscope, you can think of all technology as a toolbox. If you have the right tool, the job becomes easy. If you have the wrong tools, the job becomes more difficult and sometimes impossible. We try to find the right tools and assistive technologies to make the critical difference in the quality of life for individuals with disabilities." "Mike and Ted were brilliant, and exactly on point," said Mindy Aisen, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center's Chief Medical Officer as she opened the Saturday session at Rancho. "The neurology, rehabilitation and neurosurgery community officially embrace research results showing that the adult human nervous system is plastic and we are beginning to incorporate what was only theory two short years ago into clinical practice." Carolee Winstein, PhD, PT, FAPTA, the renowned researcher and Physical Therapy leader from USC (and a former Rancho staff member), reinforced this position with a comprehensive review of the literature and current clinical studies. "All of these confirm that after brain injury, illness, or stroke....intensive therapy-delivered by new technologies such as robotics, electronic health monitors, combined with other promising technologies such as direct current brain stimulation, may lead to even more opportunities to improve rehabilitation outcomes," Dr. Aisen said. Joining Rancho Los Amigos outstanding clinician researchers (including Helena Chui. MD, a Rancho clinician and Chair of the USC Department of Neurology, Amytis Towfighi, MD (Rancho's Chair of Neurology), Charles Liu, MD (an Engineer and Neurosugeon who spoke about the incredible advances in cranioplasty, epilepsy surgery, spinal cord stimulation - occurring at Rancho) were experts from UC Irvine and 6 neuro rehabilitation researchers from the prestigious Weill Cornell Medical College and the Burke Medical Research Institute. "The New York-based Cornell/Burke research team discussed new scientific findings with direct relevance to clinical practice today in areas such as stroke recovery, pain management, vision restoration, and spinal cord injury," Dr. Aisen said. "Of particular note, Glen Prusky, PhD, the Director of the Center for Vision Restoration at Burke, described outcomes of new experiments challenging conclusions of Nobel Prize-winning visual plasticity experiments which suggested that cortical plasticity is limited to childhood - may have had limitations that current science can now expand upon," Dr. Aisen said. "It is now apparent that in research with nonhuman models there is great capacity for plasticity in the adult visual cortex. This may have enormous implications for people with visual field deficits from strokes and needs further investigation." The reviews were unanimous…the second International Transformational Technology Summit was a tremendous success. "We brought basic scientists, engineers, and clinicians from across the continent together to inject creativity into daily rehabilitation practice, consider new collaborations across disciplines and institutions, and to more rapidly translate new findings truly from bench to bedside. All for the benefit of the patients Rancho has the honor of serving," Dr Aisen said. "As we work together to move the frontiers of rehabilitation technology and clinical practice forward, we will help create new opportunities for individuals with disabling illnesses and injuries throughout the world to maximize their potential and realize the power of their dreams." For further information, call the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation at (562) 401-7053 or visit, or

********** Published: March 01, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 46