Rehabilitation Medicine: Research Goals

The NICHD’s research efforts related to rehabilitation medicine involve the development of methods and technologies for the rehabilitation of individuals with physical disabilities resulting from diseases or disorders of the neurological, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, pulmonary, or any other physiological system. Specifically, these activities aim to:

  • Improve understanding of the pathophysiology of conditions that cause disabilities. Studies explore the biological causes and consequences of these conditions, as well as their psychological impact on patients and families, with the ultimate goal of using this knowledge to develop appropriate interventions and therapies.
  • Examine the role of activity in adaptation and recovery. Researchers examine the functional mechanisms of regeneration and plasticity and their roles in the ability to relearn and adapt to lost function.
  • Develop new rehabilitative and assistive technologies. NICHD-supported projects aim to improve upon existing technologies and to develop new technological approaches in order to restore function and improve quality-of-life in disabled individuals.
  • Improve ways to measure function and outcomes. This research aims to answer how best to develop quantitative measures to better understand and evaluate the progress of either therapy or disease and injury on a patient’s functioning in light of great variability among patients. The NICHD supports the development of new measurement tools and methods of soliciting information from patients about their subjective experience, as well as standardizing outcomes measurements in order to facilitate comparisons.
  • Develop and test new approaches for the treatment of disabilities. Supported research spans the investigation of surgical rehabilitation approaches, drug interventions, prosthetic interfaces and other new technologies, and other therapeutic approaches for primary conditions and symptoms alike.
  • Better understand the physiology of muscle and connective tissue. Supported studies include basic research into the mechanisms of injury and examinations of the effects of severe muscle shortening and the release of contractions.
  • Identify genetic and genomic influence on outcomes. The NICHD supports research into the variations in genes that affect the progression or severity of a disease or other condition, genomic studies—as of the microbiome in a certain part of the body—that can provide clues to changes in a patient’s condition, and the viability of gene therapies to prevent or slow debilitating conditions.
  • Assess the social impact of injury, disease, and rehabilitation. The NICHD also supports investigation into the roles of environmental and social factors in recovery from disease or injury and rehabilitation, with the aim of assessing how people are limited by disability and developing ways to improve their participation in society.
  • Develop and test simulations of human motion. These sophisticated models are intended to allow investigators to analyze both “normal” and “impaired” human motion, with the ultimate aim of better assessing function, evaluating care options, and providing effective rehabilitation alternatives.
  • Harness large data sets for solving rehabilitation problems. The NICHD particularly seeks to encourage and train investigators in and support collaborative research projects that use bioinformatics and statistical methods to analyze rehabilitation and disability outcomes from large administrative and research datasets.