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In the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology (RST), we engage in research of impact. Our research is focused on improving health and rehabilitation outcomes for people with disabilities through the integration of consumer experiences, engineering, assistive technology, medicine and clinical practice. RST performs research sponsored by the:

  • Department of Defense (DoD)
  • Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
  • Department of Transportation (DOT)
  • Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA)
  • United States Agency for International Development (USAID), among others.

RST Research Making Headlines:

View RST Research Facilities, Publications, and Research Participation Opportunities Online:

Explore Our Research:

RST’s research aligns with the School of Health and Rehabilitation Science (SHRS) Research Framework, which is comprised of two central categories - Personal Performance & Engagement and Health Systems Optimization:

Personal Performance & Engagement  

  • Studies examining the injury and repair of the body’s cells, tissues and physiological systems that are essential to health and function
  • Studies examining human performance, behavior and lifestyle and their impact on health and function
  • Studies examining personal and environmental factors that influence health and function

Please click on any of the research topics below to learn more:

Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Improving Health and Function Through use of Performance Standards in Wheelchair Selection

This project establishes a Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) to improve wheelchair services through an evidence-based approach using a performance-based product selection strategy. Evidenced-based approaches for the selection of appropriate wheelchair products are needed. Performance standards establish test methods and requirements for devices. This new strategy will benefit clinicians and consumers during the selection of seating and mobility technology and enhance rehabilitation services by utilizing standardized performance measures to match appropriate and quality products to user needs.
Funding source: HHS – National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)
Lead RST investigator(s): David BrienzaPatricia KargJon PearlmanMark Schmeler
Link to website: National Rehabilitation Information Center

An RCT on Effectiveness of Support Surfaces with Microclimate Management in Prevention of Pressure Injuries

This study is designed to determine if and when microclimate management in a support surface is effective in preventing pressure injuries and what level of heat and moisture control performance is necessary for prevention effectiveness. The primary aim of the project is to compare the effectiveness of reactive support surfaces with low air loss to reactive support surfaces without low air loss in preventing pressure injuries for people with moisture risk factors in acute care. A secondary aim is to identify which low air loss performance characteristics and what level of those performance characteristics are necessary for the technology to be effective.
Funding source: NIH – National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR)
Lead RST investigator(s): David BrienzaPatricia Karg

Evaluation of the Wheelchair in-Seat Activity Tracker (WiSAT) 

The overall objective of this project is to evaluate a newly developed technology known as WiSAT, a system capable of monitoring weight shifting and pressure relief behaviors and informing users of this in-seat activity using a mobile application. The system is used beneath a wheelchair user cushion and empowers users with knowledge about their pressure injury preventative behaviors. This study will assess the clinical effectiveness of the WiSAT for changing the behavior of wheelchair users at risk for pressure injuries.
Funding source: Department of Defense (DoD), US Army
Lead RST investigator(s): Patricia KargDavid Brienza

Effect of Temperature Control Liner Materials on Long-term Outcomes of Prosthesis Use

Prosthesis users complain about excessive sweat accumulation and subsequent problems with slippage, skin irritation, and discomfort. Recently, prosthesis liners that contain phase change materials (PCM) have become commercially available, holding the promise that the microclimate at the interface between the residual limb and the prosthetic socket can be regulated to reduce the user’s tendency to sweat. The study investigates whether the use of PCM infused liners can increase activity level, gait efficiency, and prosthesis utilization over longer (six-month) periods of use.
Funding source: Department of Defense (DoD), US Army
Lead RST investigator(s): Goeran Fiedler

Development of an Innovative Gait Re-training System, MOVISUFiT 

Gait retraining with real-time visual feedback (RTVF) as an intervention has demonstrated significant improvements in many patient populations. Video and mirror feedback can be used but has limitations, including the lack of mobility, realism, and sufficient quantity of steps the patient can review. Therefore, we are developing a system to provide real-time mobile visual feedback (MOVISUFiT) for gait training using kinetic data derived from the user’s limb itself and displayed wirelessly to smart glasses.
Funding source: University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute & Center for Medical Innovation
Lead RST investigator(s): Goeran Fiedler

Initiative to Mobilize Partnerships for Successful Assistive Technology Transfer (IMPACT) 

The IMPACT Center at the University of Pittsburgh provides tools and approaches to comprehensively understand barriers and facilitators to successful Assistive Technology Tech Transfer (ATTT) as well as raise awareness and increase the capacity of researchers and entrepreneurs to perform successful ATTT. This project consists of two main initiatives: defining the barriers and gateways to commercializing assistive technologies and developing online training resources and in-person seminars to empower those looking to advance assistive technology innovations.
Funding source: HHS – National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)
Lead RST investigator(s): Jon PearlmanMary Goldberg
Link to website: IMPACT

Design and Testing of Wheelchairs for Less-resourced Environments 

RST continues to be involved in the development and testing of manual and power wheelchairs that meet cost and mobility needs for less-resourced countries. Examples of this include the SIMPL-WC, a single motor propelled wheelchair for India. Projects focus on design, testing, and clinical evaluation and then the subsequent transfer of the design to a manufacturer or foundation in less-resourced countries.
Funding source: NIH – Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)
Lead RST investigator(s): Jon Pearlman

Wheelchair Transportation Safety

RST is active in the development of technology and safety standards for the safe transportation of individuals seated in wheelchairs on motor vehicles. When a wheelchair is used as a motor vehicle seat, the vehicle must be modified and after-market equipment must be installed. Technology to meet these needs as well as national and international performance and safety standards to set requirements have been researched and developed.
Funding source: HHS – National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)
Lead RST investigator(s): Patricia Karg

Promoting Mainstream Wireless Inclusion through Technology Services (PROMISE)

The goal of the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) is to expand access to and support effective use of mainstream wireless technologies among people with varying disabilities by engaging all relevant stakeholders to create and pilot innovative, viable, and scalable technology services.​ RST investigators are conducting a funding and policy study (Schmeler) and evaluating the efficacy of smart speaker training and accompanying resource toolkits (Goldberg).
Funding source: HHS – National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)
Lead RST investigator(s): Dan Ding, Mary Goldberg, Mark Schmeler

Weight Measurement for Wheelchair Users

Wheelchair users have considerable challenges monitoring daily physical activities as well as recording physical health and weight conditions. RST investigators developed and are evaluating the E‑Scale, a bed scale system that acquires the weight changes from the legs of a bed. In addition to supporting weight management, the bed scales are being used in research to monitor and classify bed movement activities to identify those at risk for developing pressure injuries and maintain turning schedules to prevent injuries.
Funding source: Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA)
Lead RST investigator(s): Jon PearlmanDavid BrienzaPatricia Karg

Training Programs to Improve Outcomes for Individuals with Spinal Cord Injury

RST investigators have developed the Wheelchair Skills Training Program (WSTP) and Wheelchair Maintenance Training Program (WMTP) and evaluated their effects on the participation and quality of life in persons with spinal cord injury (SCI). This included the development of a readily accessible web-based training program for clinicians to learn the WSTP and the WMTP. 
Funding source: HHS – National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)
Lead RST investigator(s): Jon Pearlman

Accessible Pathways for Wheelchair Users

RST performs research to improve accessibility in the built environment for wheelchair users. This includes development of a roughness standard and tool for accurately measuring the roughness for sidewalks and pathways as well as development of tools for curb ramp design and inspection.
Funding source: USDOT, PennDOT
Lead RST investigator(s): Jon Pearlman

Human-centered Health App Evaluation

The use of apps to support health and quality of life in dementia populations presents a promising venue of remote health care delivery for both individuals affected by dementia and their informal caregivers. Standardized methods of app evaluation are needed to improve clinical uptake and sustained use of impactful health apps. The Health App Review Tool (HART) was designed to perform “best match” style assessments of health apps for end users who either live with dementia or who care for a loved one with dementia. Establishing usability of the HART is critical to the uptake and sustained use by end users. This is particularly important during the pandemic as remote health care service delivery is becoming more prevalent. At present, the goals of the project are to 1) evaluate the reliability and validity of the HART and 2) assess end user (clinicians, individuals with dementia, and caregivers) perception regarding the usability of the HART.
Lead RST investigator(s)Julie Faieta

Health System Optimization

  • Studies examining health and rehabilitation provider behavior and training methods to optimize health care delivery
  • Studies examining the development of new health and rehabilitation programs and systems to optimize health equity and care quality
  • Studies examining access to and quality of health services, as well as health care policies and their impact on health equity and care quality

Please click on any of the research topics below to learn more:

International Society of Wheelchair Professionals (ISWP) 

ISWP was formed in light of the fact that over 70 million people worldwide require wheelchairs for mobility and function, yet most lack access to appropriate wheelchairs or services to repair them. ISWP’s mission is to serve as a global resource for wheelchair service standards and provision through advocacy, education, standards, evidence-based practice, innovation, and a platform for information exchange.
Funding source: United States Agency for International Development (USAID), JSI Research and Training Institute
Lead RST investigator(s): Jon PearlmanMary Goldberg
Link to website: International Society of Wheelchair Professionals

Functional Mobility Assessment Outcomes Management System/Registry

RST collaborates with VGM Group’s US Rehab and Orthotic and Prosthetic Group of America (OPGA) divisions to collect large‐scale Functional Mobility Assessment (FMA) data from their network of accredited equipment suppliers into an FMA Registry. Combined with a de‐identified minimum/uniform dataset (M/UDS), large datasets can be systematically analyzed to demonstrate more scientifically which types of mobility devices and service delivery models work best for given populations based on diagnosis, functional status, and environmental factors. Ultimately, it is expected that large data analyses will confirm that provision of properly fitted mobility equipment improves function and comfort, reduces hospitalizations and secondary medical complications (i.e. falls and pressure sores), and promotes participation.
Funding source: VGM/US Rehab
Lead RST investigator(s): Mark SchmelerRich Schein  

Investigating Prosthesis Users' Accommodation Time to Changes in Prosthetic Componentry 

Accommodation time may vary depending on patient and device-specific factors. This makes it difficult in clinical practice and research to purposefully allocate accommodation times that are neither too short (whenever device fit and alignment changes are conducted in quick succession) nor too long (whenever patients may have to endure prolonged periods using suboptimal devices). This project will evaluate whether measures of gait symmetry correlate with level of accommodation and can be used to assess this variable.
Funding source: Orthotic and Prosthetic Education and Research Foundation (OPERF)
Lead RST investigator(s): Goeran Fiedler

Veterans Administration Assistance and Advisory Services for Assistive Technology Labs 

For several years RST has had contracts with the VA to set up Assistive Technology (AT) Labs at the VA Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers (PRCs) and Spinal Cord Injury & Disorders (SCI/D) Centers. Although clinicians—who have access to some of the most advanced rehabilitation equipment and devices—are actively involved in fitting and prescribing AT devices and services for veterans and service members with disabilities, there was still a strong need to guide existing efforts and develop a coherent program for all aspects of AT service delivery, consistent with the level of expertise at the centers.
Funding source: US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
Lead RST investigator(s): Mark SchmelerRich Schein

Telerehabilitation 

RST conducts research and develops methods, systems, and technologies that support remote delivery of rehabilitation and home health care services for individuals who have limited local access to comprehensive medical and rehabilitation outpatient services. This includes design and development of information technology infrastructure; development of models for clinical assessment and use of telerehabilitation services; and applications in services such as wheelchair prescription, job coaching, and communication function.
Funding source: HHS – National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)
Lead RST investigator(s): David BrienzaMark SchmelerRich Schein

Comprehensive Evaluation Services for Research Centers and Training Programs 

Center or program evaluation is critical to ensure the timely delivery of key outputs and to ensure both short- and long-term goals are met. The evaluations are generally comprised of both an impact and a process evaluation and include qualitative and quantitative components. Our evaluation team is engaged in metrics tracking, tool development, interviews, and focus groups. We develop data visualizations and regular reports to identify trends and recommend any corrective actions.
Funding source: NIH – National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), NIH – National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), NIH – National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), NIH – Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL)
Lead RST investigator(s): Mary Goldberg

Investigation into Parallels of PASC and TBI Presentation 

We are working to investigate the similarities between Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) presentation in order to better understand the implications of incidence of PASC on risk of exacerbated negative outcomes of TBI. This study will include investigating similarities in brain structure, genetic factors, and demographic factors relative to PASC and TBI presentation. Following an initial injury, subsequent TBI outcomes can be intensified. Therefore, better understanding of the parallels of PASC and TBI are needed to guide prudent preventative measures for those whose occupation increases the risk of attaining a TBI.
Lead RST investigator(s): Julie Faieta

RST Contracted Services:

RST has and continues to perform research and development projects for manufacturers, suppliers, third-party payers, and foundations. Services include product development, laboratory testing and evaluation, clinical evaluation, best practice development, and training programs.

Some companies/organizations we have worked with:

  • Hillrom
  • Permobil
  • Arjo
  • Turncare
  • Dabir Surfaces
  • ROHO
  • VGM/US Rehab
  • UCP Wheels for Humanity
  • Anthros
  • Tamarack
  • Game Changer Technologies