USC physical therapy researcher awarded NIH grant to continue research on stroke rehab

X-ray of brain

April 9, 2019

PhD candidate Rini Varghese has been awarded the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship, a prestigious federal pre-doctoral training grant.

The F31 grant is designed to enable promising pre-doctoral students to obtain individualized, mentored research training from outstanding faculty sponsors while conducting dissertation research.

Varghese was awarded the grant for her study on stroke rehabilitation, “Characterizing Hemispheric-Specific Deficits in Bimanual Motor Control After Stroke.”

“Have you ever wondered why it’s difficult to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time?” Varghese asked. “It’s because your brain is wired to prefer that your two arms work together, known as interlimb coupling. But after a stroke when one side of the body is weakened interlimb coupling is affected.”

To further observe this, Varghese will study interlimb coupling in people who have had left-brain stroke and people who have had right-brain stroke to determine if this tendency toward coupling diminishes or gets exaggerated.

“If we better understand any unique deficits in bimanual motor control arising from injury to each of the brain’s hemispheres, we can design rehabilitation programs tailored to more precisely address these deficits,” Varghese said. 

Varghese has chosen as her research mentors USC Professor Carolee Winstein MS ’84 and Robert Sainburg, a professor in the Department of Neurology and Kinesiology at the Pennsylvania State University.

“I was able to choose my own faculty sponsors and was fortunate to have these two giants in the field agree to mentor me,” she said.

Through their mentorship, Varghese is expected to acquire the training needed to then conduct independent research and disseminate her findings via conferences and published manuscripts over the next two years.

Varghese is the first-ever division recipient awarded this prestigious F31 grant. It is one of only six awarded by the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in the past five years.

“I am honored to receive this award as it is recognition by the National Institutes of Health of promising researchers,” Varghese said.

“I am inspired to conduct research to improve care and make it accessible to clinicians around the world.”