Since it was founded in 2002, the Applied Physiology Ph.D. program at Georgia Tech has had close ties to rehabilitation science. Now, thanks to the generosity of a Georgia Tech and Emory University alum’s family foundation, Applied Physiology will work with the Emory University School of Medicine and Shepherd Center’s Crawford Research Institute to create a new training program for Applied Physiology doctoral students focused on neurorehabilitation.
The Applied Physiology Ph.D. program, part of the Georgia Tech School of Biological Sciences, focuses primarily on the physical and neural function of the human motor system. “Because of that,” explains T. Richard Nichols, Biological Sciences professor and head of Applied Physiology, “rehabilitation has always been a very strong theme in our program.”
That deeper focus on rehabilitation sciences is now formalized by the creation of the Jack and Dana McCallum Neurorehabilitation Training Program. The new initiative is the result of a $1 million gift from Dana and Jack McCallum (BIO ’66) that will be used over the next four years to support graduate student and faculty research, as well as train new scientists in neurorehabilitation.
Emory University School of Medicine, where Jack McCallum received his M.D., will be a close partner in developing the program. A course designed to train graduate students in clinical neurorehabilitation will be taught at the school in addition to collaborating closely in research funded by the investment.
“This gift is really going to strengthen the tie between specifically Biological Sciences and the Emory University School of Medicine, which was the intention of the gift,” explains Biological Sciences professor and associate chair of faculty development Young-Hui Chang. “I think it’s going to provide one more, but very strong, avenue for collaboration between the two institutions.”
Refocusing on rehabilitation
With a clinical focus, research funded through the program will target aspects of rehabilitation for people who have neurological diseases like Parkinson disease — or trauma, such as a spinal cord or brain injury.
The investment will also drive new major research focused on understanding the neurophysiological basis for injury and recovery related to central and peripheral nervous system trauma, and on the preclinical development of potential therapies.
“As people survive and live longer with acquired conditions such as stroke and Parkinson disease, and with traumatic injuries such as brain and spinal cord injury, there is a tremendous demand for rehabilitation researchers to meet needs of the large and growing population of persons with neurologic conditions,” explains Edelle Field-Fote, a professor with joint appointments in the Emory University School of Medicine and Applied Physiology at Georgia Tech, who also serves as director of spinal cord injury research at the Shepherd Center. “The goal of the McCallum Neurorehabilitation Training Program is to help address this need. The program will develop rehabilitation scientists with the training to advance knowledge underlying clinical care and the skills to develop interventions that can reduce disability, thereby improving functioning and quality of life for persons with neurologic conditions.”
Research and practice in motion
The Applied Physiology graduate program is no stranger to clinical research and development, having served as home of a clinical master’s degree in prosthetics and orthotics, which migrated to Kennesaw State University in 2020, and also hosting a training grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH), funding students whose research focused on rehabilitation for persons with limb loss. In 2018, Applied Physiology launched a dual Doctor of Philosophy and Doctor of Physical Therapy degree program in collaboration with the Division of Physical Therapy at Emory University, with Field-Fote as its director.
"Emory University’s Division of Physical Therapy greatly values our collaborations with Georgia Tech and its Applied Physiology program,” shares 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.”
As Nichols points out, these ties between research and the clinic build a solid foundation for the new training program. “Our faculty in Applied Physiology are used to dealing with clinical collaborators and clinical problems, but we're working more at a fundamental level in terms of the science. It really provides a nice environment for this training program and will help move us into a new area of neurorehabilitation.”
New funding for current graduate students in Applied Physiology, as well as those enrolling in the dual Doctor of Philosophy and Doctor of Physical Therapy program, is set to begin this year. Targeted toward advanced students, the efforts are expected to allow the Applied Physiology program to admit more new students and to award competitive McCallum Research Fellowships to help fund thesis research after they reach Ph.D. candidacy.
“I am so grateful to Dana and Jack McCallum for their foresight and generosity,” shares Field-Fote. “I am most excited by the great potential that this program has for advancing the clinical care and foundational sciences related to neurorehabilitation.”
For more information on the Applied Physiology program or the Jack and Dana McCallum Neurorehabilitation Training Program, contact Young-Hui Chang at email@example.com.