This proposal describes our "Integrated Engineering and Rehabilitation Training" program that produces biomedical Ph.D. graduates who combine state-of-the-art expertise in neural engineering (an area of biomedical engineering) with a genuine appreciation of the practice and challenges of clinical rehabilitation. This program is centered in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Case Western Reserve University, but also includes the strong participation of several of our local medical centers. Our program is focused exclusively on predoctoral training and we have trained 37 students since 1999. We are requesting funding for a total of 8 training positions per year for five years. Trainees are typicaly funded by the program for two years each, so we expect to train a total of 20 BME Ph.D. students over the proposed 5 years. Trainees enter with undergraduate training in engineering or a closely related discipline (e.g., physics). They satisfy the rigorous requirements of the BME Ph.D. program and benefit from its existing features, while our T32 program adds value through highly collaborative and interdisciplinary research projects, a clinical immersion experience, and unique access to visiting seminar speakers (including a journal club). Over the next 5 years, we will add a formal course on Career Development for Neural Engineers, include a seminar series on diversity and formal diversity training, and form an external Advisory Committee comprised of academic leaders in rehabilitation and neural engineering, representatives of large and small companies in the stimulation and rehabilitation commercial space, practicing neural/rehabilitation physicians, and a student diversity professional. The specific objectives of our training program are: (1) Prepare our trainees for productive careers in rehabilitation and neural engineering;(2) Provide a rigorous engineering education that forms the basis for future innovation;(3) Provide specific expertise in the development and application of neural stimulation and complementary interventions for overcoming neurological disorders;(4) Provide specific expertise in modeling and simulation (musculoskeletal and/or neural);(5) Provide an extensive, hands-on clinical immersion experience that prepares each trainee for a translational career;and (6) Provide real-world professional development training to enhance post-graduation success. We have assembled a distinguished group of mentors who serve in one of three roles: Research Training mentors (14) who are the primary research advisors of the trainees, Associate Research Training Mentors (7) who are content experts on T32 trainee committees, and Clinical Training Mentors (14) from rehabilitation and surgical disciplines who insure the clinical relevance of each trainee research project. Trainee project topics include electrode development;stimulation pattern design;neural motor control mechanisms;neural biomaterials, protection, and repair;deployment of interventions to individuals with neurological disorders;neuroreahabilitation;modeling and simulation;and brain-computer interfacing.
The number of people in the U.S. living with movement-related disabilities is staggering. Disability due to neurological disorders can often be mitigated by the careful application of electrical stimulation to specific neural structures. Both research and commercial applications related to neural stimulation are growing very rapidly, leading to a real need for highly qualified, Ph.D.-level engineers who have the technical and clinical backgrounds provided by this program.
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