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Pitt Researchers Obtain $4.5 Million Grant to Study Potential Improvements for Wheelchair Users

PITTSBURGH, July 26, 2012 – Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC will lead a five-year, multi-site project aimed at improving the lives of people with Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI). The study will use Internet-based training and group sessions to hone the skills of wheelchair use and prevent wheelchair failures. This research will involve more than 500 participants over four different sites, making it one of the largest studies of its kind.
Among the other groups involved in the research are: the Northern New Jersey Spinal Cord Injury System, a cooperative effort of the Kessler Foundation, the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey; the Midwest Regional Spinal Cord Injury Care System, which brings together Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and the Acute Spinal Cord Injury Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, plus the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago; and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and The Miami Project, along with Jackson Memorial Hospital forming the South Florida Spinal Cord Injury System.
“This grant will start to tackle problems related to insurance cutbacks that have negatively impacted individuals with Spinal Cord Injuries,” said Michael Boninger, M.D., professor and chair, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Pitt School of Medicine. “Because they spend less time in the hospital after their injuries, they never learn how to effectively use and maintain their wheelchairs. We need an effective, low-cost way to provide people with training that maximizes their independence – this study tackles that problem.”
Through the efforts of Pitt’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation; the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences; the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute; and the Human Engineering Research Laboratories – a joint Pitt, UPMC and VA project – Pittsburgh has become nationally and internationally recognized for its expertise in technologies for persons with disabilities.
The latest grant – from the National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research -- comes barely two months after a published Pitt-UPMC study, with Boninger as the senior author, found 52 percent of people with SCI required wheelchair repairs in the preceding six months. Many of the wheelchair users who needed repairs experienced adverse consequences, the study also found. The same set of Pitt-UPMC researchers also have a 2012 study paper accepted for publication finding a relationship between the ability to perform wheelchair skills – after training – and higher life satisfaction and community participation. The abstract is available at

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