It was in 2010 that the Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development published the guest editorial article entitled “Regenerative rehabilitation: A call to action” which was co-authored by McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member Fabrisia Ambrosio, PhD, MPT, Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh with secondary appointments in the Departments of Physical Therapy, Orthopaedic Surgery, and Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. In that piece, the authors explained:
We believe that rehabilitation science and technology will be critical in the success of any regenerative therapy and therefore the two fields must pay increasingly more attention to each other. We suggest herein a variety of mechanisms for the rehabilitation community to be the enablers of regenerative therapies. Because regenerative therapies are outcome-driven rather than technology-specific, the community needs to engage in this interdisciplinary cross-fertilization with an understanding of the different tools that can be used to restore lost organ and tissue function.
This seed of an idea has expanded and grown over the past few years. As reported by Elie Dolgin for The Scientist, the science may still be in its infancy, but Dr. Ambrosio says her efforts in community building are beginning to pay off. “I can see such a difference in the way people receive some of these ideas of regenerative rehab,” she says. “It was really kind of novel as recently as 2010, whereas now it’s actually part of our vernacular.”
Starting in 2011, Dr. Ambrosio and McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Michael Boninger, MD, UPMC Endowed Chair and Professor in the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, University of Pittsburgh, and Senior Associate Medical Director, Human Engineering Research Laboratories, launched an annual Symposium on Regenerative Rehabilitation; they held the fourth conference in September 2015 at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Last year, the duo also started the International Consortium for Regenerative Rehabilitation, a coalition of eight participating institutions from the U.S., Japan, and Italy that is now developing a strategic agenda for the field. And a few months ago, they secured funding to create the Alliance for Regenerative Rehabilitation Research & Training, which includes four US universities and hospitals (Pitt, Stanford University, Mayo, and the University of California, San Francisco) and will support webinars, minisabbaticals, seed grants, and more.
“This is about getting more people doing this work, understanding this work, and translating this field,” says Dr. Boninger, who is leading the alliance together with Stanford University stem-cell biologist and McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Thomas Rando, MD, PhD, Professor, Department of Neurology and Neurological Sciences. Just adding exercise to a stem cell therapy is “easy,” Dr. Boninger notes. “Doing the basic science to evaluate that is a little more challenging.”