VA, Brown dedicate neurorestoration center

November 9, 2012
Officials and some famous patients gathered Friday morning, Oct. 26, 2012, to dedicate the new $4.5-million Center for Neurorestoration and Neurotechnology at the Providence Veterans Administration Medical Center. The CfNN’s scientific leadership is jointly appointed by the VA and Brown.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The Providence Veterans Administration Medical Center today announced a new research center, entirely led by scientists jointly affiliated with Brown University, that will develop and test technologies and therapies to help veterans with brain disorders, psychiatric conditions, and limb loss.

The VA funded the new Center of Excellence for Neurorestoration and Neurotechnology, with $4.5 million over five years. The CfNN involves more than 30 researchers overall, including some based at Butler Hospital and affiliated with Rhode Island Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.

“The VA Center for Neurorestoration and Neurotechnology brings together an exceptional group of scientists, clinicians, and engineers who carry out advanced research that’s leading to the latest cutting-edge technology and the newest therapies,” said John Donoghue, professor of neuroscience and engineering Brown and a research scientist at the VA, who directs the CfNN and the Brown Institute for Brain Science. “The research aims to restore the ability of our veterans to pursue fulfilling and independent lives.”

The CfNN is organized around two cores to support clinical trials and brain imaging, including Brown’s magnetic resonance imaging lab. It focuses on four areas of research: The BrainGate brain-computer interface to help people with severe paralysis; advancing prosthetics for upper-limb amputees; robotic- and computer-assisted rehabilitation for patients with strokes, multiple sclerosis, and other disorders; and neuromodulation technologies, such as electrical and magnetic brain stimulation to treat chronic pain, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other psychiatric disorders.

In a statement, Brown President Christina Paxson praised that mission.

“Advancing science to restore health and quality of life for people with neurological disorders and limb loss is a tremendously inspiring research mission,” Paxson said. “Brown University is proud join with our longtime partners at the Providence VA Medical Center in dedicating this new center. This public investment in a meaningful collaboration between government, academic, and hospital-based researchers has the potential to yield many beneficial innovations for veterans and others.”

In his remarks Donoghue noted that all four research projects are already engaged in clinical trials where innovations are being tested and translated with real patients.

A historic meeting

But for all the speeches on the program, which also included remarks by Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Dr. Joel Kupersmith, chief research officer for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Dr. Glenn Tung, associate dean of the Alpert Medical School, the loudest applause came at the very end when the two participants in the BrainGate research reported in theNature paper in May were able to meet for the first time. Patients Bob (known in the paper as “T2”) came in from Connecticut and Cathy (known as “S3”) from Massachusetts.

Providence VA Chaplain Daniel Cottrell foreshadowed the meaning of the moment in his invocation: “May the mysteries unlocked not only be the success of science but the triumph of the human spirit.”