Matching Clinical Needs with Research and Training for Pediatric Neurorehabilitation and Innovation

Unmet clinical needs are the cornerstone that drive meaningful medtech innovation. Clinicians not only see the ‘on the ground’ problems in their daily provision of care, they have powerful insights researchers can use to improve the efficiency with which their work, and its empirical verification and validation, advances new technologies to improve patient care.

Young-Hui Chang, Biological Sciences Professor and Associate Chair of Faculty Development

In 2022, Jack and Dana McCallum made a $1 million gift to Georgia Tech formalizing the Neurorehabilitation Training Program, part of the Applied Physiology Ph.D. program within the Georgia Tech School of Biological Sciences. At the 30,000 foot level, the gift and program intends to “strengthen the ties between Georgia Tech Biological Sciences and the Emory University School of Medicine through scientific training.”

“Our work addresses neurological disorders of all types, which affect patients of all ages, including in pediatrics for whom early interventions can improve quality of life for an entire lifetime, be that cerebral palsy, stroke, spinal cord injury, or traumatic brain injuries including concussion,” said Biological Sciences Professor and Associate Chair of Faculty Development Young-Hui Chang. “On the front-line, clinical side of the equation, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta clinicians regularly encounter a broad list of conditions that require treatment including rare neurological diseases that suffer from a lack of rigorous scientific study, something we hope to change for the better.”

According to Tami Phillips, associate professor and interim program director of the Division of Physical Therapy, “The opportunity for Ph.D. students to work in research labs across institutions and D.P.T/Ph.D. students to bridge the gap between clinical neurorehabilitation practice and research will lead to innovations that will benefit individuals with neurologic conditions.”

“Our doctoral candidates may have clinical backgrounds and degrees in areas like physical therapy, while others have non-clinical scientific degrees that need exposure to, and training in, clinical application and impact,” Dr. Chang said. “We strongly believe this program and gift, along with the Applied Physiology group’s capability to quantify behavior through computational neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, brain imaging, biomechanics, human research, preclinical research, and computer models, can help meet the width and depth of unmet clinical needs brought to us through Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University.”

Impact Potential Throughout the Medtech Innovation Pathway

Tami Phillips, Associate Professor and Interim Program Director of the Division of Physical Therapy in the Emory University School of Medicine

While this partnership’s primary focus is improvement in human clinical outcomes, it retains capacity for preclinical activities required by regulatory bodies for safety and efficacy data generation.

“Our preclinical work has demonstrated some amazing capabilities for new technologies that can be used to treat neurological disorders. For example, we have used kilohertz frequency electrical stimulation to preferentially, and temporarily, block peripheral nerves to study how they  may be contributing to the control of movement,” Dr. Chang told us.

Creating and Maintaining an Environment of Understanding and Collaboration

With several active projects in flight including publication preparation and ongoing student training in neurorehabilitation, creating consistent, stable lines and forums of communication between the two faculties is a top short term goal. Long-term, Dr. Chang believes there is high potential for sizable grants from entities like the National Institutes of Health to increase the size and scope of the training program.

“Complex challenges like pediatric neurology require collaboration and understanding among stakeholders with substantially different areas of expertise,” Dr. Chang said. “I’d like to see anything from a series of clinical immersion experiences for our graduate students, or in-person meet and greets to generate high ‘bump rates’ where organic conversation and interaction often breeds ideas with high potential, or even some virtual lunch and learns to share needs, opportunities and reinforce our collective work and goals. Ultimately, creating and maintaining the time to connect, to share, to listen and to truly understand each other is a high priority short term goal for the program.”

[Header photo credit: CDC, other photos courtesy GT College of Sciences]