Pitt Grant to Fund Study of Improvements for Wheelchair Users

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (Pitt) and UPMC were awarded a $4.5 million grant to study improvements for people with spinal cord injury (SCI). The five-year, multisite study will recruit more than 500 participants, making it one of the largest studies of its kind.

Study participants will receive Internet-based training and attend group sessions aimed at honing their wheelchair use skills and preventing wheelchair failures.

“This grant will start to tackle problems related to insurance cutbacks that have negatively impacted individuals with spinal cord injuries,” said Dr. Michael Boninger, professor and chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Pitt. “Because (people with SCI) spend less time in the hospital after their injuries, they never learn how to effectively use and maintain their wheelchairs. We need an effective, low-cost way to provide people with training that maximizes their independence; this study tackles that problem.”

Other groups selected to participate in collecting data are

  • Northern New Jersey Spinal Cord Injury System – a cooperative effort of the Kessler Foundation, the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
  • The Midwest Regional Spinal Cord Injury Care System – bringing together Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, the Acute Spinal Cord Injury Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago
  • The South Florida Spinal Cord Injury System – including the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, The Miami Project and Jackson Memorial Hospital.

The National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research grant comes just two months after the publication of a Pitt-UPMC study that found that 52 percent of people with SCI required wheelchair repairs in the preceding six months. The research also showed that many wheelchair users who needed repairs experienced adverse consequences.

Another of the Pitt-UPMC researchers’ papers—this one on finding a relationship between the ability to perform wheelchair skills and higher quality life and community participation—has been accepted for publication. View the abstract here.