Georgetown University, MedStar National Rehabilitation Network Create Unique Brain Center

Posted in News Release

New collaboration harnesses the research expertise of Georgetown University and MedStar National Rehabilitation Network’s clinical research and patient care teams to form the Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery.

WASHINGTONGeorgetown University and MedStar National Rehabilitation Network announced today a new research and patient care partnership that extends the boundaries of neuroscience. The new Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery marks the launch of a rare research continuum spanning basic and translational science in brain recovery.

The Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery focuses on the study of neural plasticity, the biological process that underlies the brain’s ability to learn and develop. Researchers say plasticity offers a powerful recovery tool in conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, and dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease. By understanding brain plasticity mechanisms, scientists can broaden the research focus on finding ways to reverse the effects of neurological damage and disease.

“Breakthroughs on these important challenges are within our grasp but require a highly interdisciplinary approach that is still rare among top research universities, largely because of the traditional organization of disciplines and the physical separations among the arts and sciences, basic neurosciences, and medical and educational applications,” says Howard J. Federoff, M.D., Ph.D., executive vice president for health sciences at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) and executive dean of Georgetown’s School of Medicine.

“This unique interdisciplinary approach will harness Georgetown’s strengths in the sciences and humanities, including linguistics, foreign languages, psychology and philosophy, and match them with MedStar NRH’s clinical and patient care expertise,” says Michael Yochelson, M.D., MBA, vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer at MedStar NRH.

Borne of a multi-year strategic planning process, the Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery is a top priority for GUMC. Georgetown University Medical Center is committed to advancing scientific understanding and human health through biomedical research, particularly neuromedicine, as part of the university’s $1.5 billion fundraising campaign.

“This project is a continuation of the partnership that existed between MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and GU,” says M. Joy Drass, M.D., executive vice president of operations for MedStar Health, Washington region. “This partnership now extends to all of MedStar Health with our patients being the beneficiaries.”

Elissa Newport, Ph.D., a professor of neurology at Georgetown, will serve as director of the Center for Brain Plasticity. Alexander Dromerick, M.D., a professor of rehabilitation medicine and associate medical director for research at MedStar NRH, will serve as co-director.

“Significant gains in neuroscience research are attainable by bringing together teams of scientists and clinicians — a rare interdisciplinary integration of neuroscience research across the spectrum, from genetic and molecular to behavioral and cognitive levels of analysis, bridging basic science and clinical application,” says Newport.

With the oncoming aging of the U.S. population, brain conditions such as stroke and Alzheimer’s disease are among the greatest challenges of the 21st century, she adds.

Newport joined Georgetown July 1 from the University of Rochester where she was the George Eastman Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Her primary research interest is in human language acquisition, with research projects including naturalistic studies of children learning their first languages, experimental studies of infants, adults, and non-human primates learning miniature languages in the lab, fieldwork on emerging sign languages, and fMRI and patient research on language and the brain.

The Center for Brain Plasticity’s first focus will be stroke, one of the most common neurological disorders and the common cause of disability in the U.S.

“In many individuals, stroke produces sudden focused damage to the brain and a subsequent relatively static state that we can study and hope to alter, in contrast to many diseases that continue to progress and worsen over time,” Newport explains. “Stroke-related disorders provide an ideal model for the translation and application of new approaches. We anticipate that these novel strategies also will improve recovery from other brain insults including trauma, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.”

Rather than providing only palliative care for stroke and other disabling disorders, the Center for Brain Plasticity’s long-term aim is to stimulate the brain to recover from damage, preserving and restoring cognitive and neurologic function.

Newport says because of the Center for Brain Plasticity’s unique collaboration between Georgetown and MedStar National Rehabilitation Network, researchers will be able to apply new approaches immediately to the clinical treatment of brain injury resulting from stroke.

Dromerick, a board-certified neurologist with fellowship training in neurorehabilitation, says the Center fills a void in the field of neuroscience research. In addition to his MedStar NRH appointment, Dromerick is a professor of rehabilitation medicine and neurology at Georgetown University, whose primary research interests focus on recovery from stroke and the rehabilitation of persons with stroke. He has extensive experience conducting national clinical trials for treatment and rehabilitation.

“Most of the nationally prominent rehabilitation hospitals are not partnered with the scientific laboratories of a major university, and most of the top scientific research programs on neural plasticity are not focused on enhancing recovery in humans,” Dromerick explains. “The Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery offers powerful insights for restoring optimal function after a variety of insults to the brain, and the realistic opportunity to dramatically change the lives of people affected by these disabling diseases.”

In May, Georgetown announced a $1.25 million gift to establish the George Bergeron Endowed Professorship in Neuroscience in the Brain Center. The gift, in George Bergeron’s memory, was made by his son and daughter-in-law, Doug and Sandra Bergeron of Atherton, California, to support an exceptional scientist in the Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery.

About Georgetown University Medical Center
Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through MedStar Health). GUMC’s mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis — or “care of the whole person.” The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies, both nationally ranked; Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute; and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), which accounts for the majority of externally funded research at GUMC including a Clinical Translation and Science Award from the National Institutes of Health. In fiscal year 2010-11, GUMC accounted for 85 percent of the university’s sponsored research funding.

About MedStar National Rehabilitation Network
MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital is a private, not-for-profit facility with 137 beds located in Northwest Washington, D.C. MedStar NRH’s services are designed specifically for the rehabilitation of individuals with disabling injuries and illnesses such as stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury and disease, arthritis, amputations, post-polio syndrome, chronic pain, back and neck pain, occupational injuries, cancer and cardiac disease that require medical rehabilitation, and other neurological and orthopedic conditions. Annually, MedStar NRH admits approximately 2,200 inpatients and provides nearly 350,000 ambulatory visits at 34 MedStar National Rehabilitation Network outpatient sites located in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia. We treat patients from the age of 6 and up and our pediatric unit — the National Center for Children’s Rehabilitation — is a joint service of MedStar NRH and Children’s National Medical Center.

MedStar NRH has appeared on the “Best Hospitals” list in U.S. News & World Report for 18 consecutive years and is currently ranked among the top hospitals for medical rehabilitation in America. MedStar NRH is fully accredited by The Joint Commission and the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). We have CARF accredited specialty programs for Brain Injury, Spinal Cord Injury, and Stroke. MedStar NRH is a proud member of MedStar Health., parent company to MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital, MedStar Harbor Hospital, MedStar Montgomery Medical Center, MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital, MedStar Union Memorial Hospital, MedStar Washington Hospital Center and the MedStar Visiting Nurse Association. For more on MedStar NRH, log on to