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RMSTP: Advisory Board
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Current RMSTP advisory board

Michael L. Boninger, MD

Dr. Michael Boninger will serve as both Principal Investigator and Program Director. Dr. Boninger is UPMC Endowed Professor and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh. He holds adjunct appointments in the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology and the Department of Bioengineering. Dr. Boninger also works as a physician researcher for the VA. Under his leadership, the department went from being unranked in NIH funding to being one of the top programs in the country. Dr. Boninger recently stepped down as department chair and accepted a role as senior medical director for post-acute care for the health services division of UPMC. Dr. Gwendolyn Sowa, an RMSTP graduate, replaced Dr. Boninger as chair. Dr. Sowa asked Dr. Boninger to return to his former position as vice chair for research. These new roles involve less administrative work than when Dr. Boninger was chair and have freed him up to pursue his passions of teaching and conducting research, which are exemplified in the RMSTP.

Dr. Boninger graduated from Ohio State University with both a medical doctorate and a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He received his specialty training in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Michigan. After residency, he completed a one-year research fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh. He has devoted at least 75% of his time to research since completing his residency. Dr. Boninger’s central research focus is on enabling increased function and participation for individuals with disabilities through development and application of assistive, rehabilitative and regenerative technologies. Dr. Boninger was appointed Assistant and then Associate Dean for Medical Student research from 2004 until 2010. In this role he was responsible for the requirement that each medical student at Pitt complete a research project. Mentorship and research education where key components of this job. In this role he published a number of papers on research education in Academic Medicine26-28 and was the editor of a focus section in the journal.

Dr. Boninger has received funding as PI from the National Institutes of Health, the VA Affairs, NIDILRR and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). He has also received funding for the Centers for Disease Control and the National Science Foundation. He is the director of the University of Pittsburgh Model Center on Spinal Cord Injury (UPMC-SCI), funded by NIDILRR. Dr. Boninger has considerable experience in research training. In addition to his work with the RMSTP, he has held T32 and T35 grants which are designed to foster research development among post-doctoral clinicians and medical students respectively. Under Dr. Boninger’s supervision, medical students, residents, and graduate students have won over 55 national research awards. Dr. Boninger’s most recent grant is an NIH center entitled Alliance for Regenerative Rehabilitation Research and Training (AR3T). This grant is part of the NIH funded Medical Rehabilitation Research Resource Network. AR3T has a major training component, including sabbaticals, an annual conference and web-based materials.

Dr. Boninger has served as a grant reviewer for the VA from 1997 to 2003, and for the NIH function, integration and rehabilitation study group. He has been chair of two data safety monitoring boards, one funded through the VA and one through NIH. Thus he is very familiar with grantsmanship and peer review. He has over 230 peer reviewed journal publications including articles related to research training. He has lectured internationally on biomechanics, assistive technology, robotics, direct brain interfaces and research education. He also holds four U.S. patents. Dr. Boninger serves on the editorial board of the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.


John Whyte, MD, PhD
john whyte
Dr. Whyte completed an MD/PhD program at the University of Pennsylvania, with his PhD work in cognitive psychology. He completed a residency in PM&R at the University of Minnesota and a Neurotrauma fellowship at Tufts New England Medical Center where he worked for 5 years in a subacute facility specializing in severe brain injury and disorders of consciousness (DOC). In 1989 he was recruited to MossRehab in Philadelphia and became the founding director of the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) in 1992. Since then, MRRI has grown to a budget of approximately $5M annually and 10 faculty-level scientists.

He continues to study attention and executive function deficits after TBI from many different perspectives, including basic exploration of mechanisms (structural and functional neuroimaging), clinical assessment (development, with Tessa Hart, of the Moss Attention Rating Scale – MARS), and treatment (placebo controlled trials of methylphenidate and other psychoactive medications). In the area of DOC, he developed a clinical assessment approach based on the principles of single subject experimental design (Quantitative Individualized Behavioral Assessment), studied the development of family beliefs about consciousness, and organized an international multi-center research network to study the natural history of DOC. Using this research network, he and Joseph Giacino, PhD, demonstrated the efficacy of amantadine HCl in accelerating recovery in a double blind placebo controlled trial that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. His research has been funded by NIH, NIDRR, the Department of Defense, and several private foundations.

Dr. Whyte has also lectured and spoken extensively about the special challenges posed by rehabilitation research and some of the methodologic strategies for meeting those challenges. His combination of specific research experience and perspective on these larger methodologic problems has led him to assume prominent roles in research training, including co-directing the Rehabilitation Medicine Scientist Training Program (RMSTP) with Michael Boninger, MD, and directing two NIH-funded infrastructure grants to support other rehabilitation researchers.

Dr. Whyte was the 2002 winner of the William Fields Caveness Award, from the Brain Injury Association of America, the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine’s 2007 Coulter Lecturer, the 2008 recipient of the Robert L. Moody Prize for Distinguished Initiatives in Brain Injury Research and Rehabilitation, the 2010 recipient of the Distinguished Academician Award from the Association of Academic Physiatrists, and the 2012 recipient of the Joel A. DeLisa, MD Award for Excellence in Research and Education in the Field of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. He is a past president of the Association of Academic Physiatrists, and currently Chairs the AAP’s Public Policy Committee. In 2015 he was elected to the National Academy of Medicine.


Pablo Celnik, MD, PhD
Dr. Pablo Celnik is director of the Johns Hopkins Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and physiatrist-in-chief at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. He is a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, neurology, and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He serves as Chair for research in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation, medical director of the outpatient neurorehabilitation program, and director of the Human Brain Physiology and Stimulation Laboratory. He is internationally-recognized for his expertise in neurologic rehabilitation, particularly with stroke and traumatic brain injury.

Dr. Celnik's research focuses on understanding the mechanisms underlying motor learning and motor recovery after brain lesions, and on developing new strategies to enhance motor recovery after stroke. As director of the Human Brain Physiology and Stimulation Laboratory at Johns Hopkins, he has published more than 60 manuscripts in highly regarded journals and books. Dr Celnik’s research has formed the foundational knowledge for the application of non-invasive brain stimulation techniques, like transcranial magnetic and electric stimulation, to understand recovery after brain lesions, augment motor learning and design novel rehabilitation training interventions.

A native of Argentina, Dr. Celnik received his medical degree from the University of Buenos Aires School of Medicine. He completed his residency training in neurology in Argentina and a fellowship in neurological rehabilitation at the University of Maryland. He also earned two research fellowships in the lab of Dr. Mark Hallett, first, and Dr. Leonardo G. Cohen later on, both at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), National Institutes of Health (NIH). In the year 2000, he entered the PM&R residency program at Johns Hopkins, where he was ultimately appointed chief resident. Since 2003, he has been part of the Johns Hopkins faculty in the PM&R, neurology and neuroscience departments.

Dr. Celnik has received numerous prestigious awards. In particular, in 2010 he received from President Obama the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers. He has also been awarded the 2010 Outstanding Neurorehabilitation Clinician Scientist Award from the American Society of Neurorehabilitation; the Clinician Scientist Award from The Johns Hopkins University; the 2006 Dennis W. Jahnigen Career Development Scholars Award from the American Geriatric Society; and the Young Academician Award from the Association of Academic Physiatrists for outstanding academic performance.

Dr. Celnik is an associate editor of the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. He is actively involved in the Association of Academic Physiatrist, serving in the Advisory Board of the Rehabilitation Medicine Training Program (RMSTP) and on the Research Committee.


Leighton Chan, MD, MPH

Dr. Leighton Chan is a Tenured Senior Scientist and the Chief of Rehabilitation Medicine at the NIH Clinical Research Center, a 200 bed research hospital on the NIH campus.  He received his BA degree from Dartmouth College and his MD from the UCLA School of Medicine.  He received residency training in PM & R at the University of Washington.  Subsequently, he completed a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar Fellowship, earned an MPH at the UW School of Public Health, and was a Congressional Fellow for the Honorable Jim McDermott (Washington).  In 2007, after 10 years on the faculty of the University of Washington, Dr. Chan took his current position at NIH where he manages a department of 100 staff and students who support NIH's Intramural Research Program.

Dr. Chan has concentrated his research efforts on studying the services provided to individuals with disabilities.  His areas of focus have been payment systems for rehabilitation, and the health care delivered to Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities, and the Social Security Disability Insurance system.  He has published more than 100 peer reviewed articles, including 10 in JAMA, Lancet and NEJM, and has received research funding in excess of $50 million.  In 2007, he was elected to the Institute of Medicine.


Dennis Matthews, MD


Dr. Matthews, Professor and Chairman, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of   Colorado School of Medicine, Denver Colorado; Fischahs Endowed Chair in Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine, The Children’s Hospital Rehabilitation Center. He received his undergraduate education at Regis College in Denver, Medical Degree at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and residency training in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Minnesota. Dr Matthews specializes in Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine and Neuromuscular Medicine.


His research interests include: 1) Neruomuscular Diseases: clinical trials in DMD (steroids, PTC, etc); biomarkers in SMA; CDC MDSTARNet: surveillance and identification of DMD, natural history; 2) Gait and Motion Analysis: CP gait, upper extremity motion capture; 3) spasticity management: botulinum toxins, ITBP, SDR


Dr. Matthews has written and lectured extensively on the Rehabilitation Management of Children andAdolescents. Dr. Matthews is currently funded through grants from NIH, NIDRR, MDA, CDC andindustry (clinical trials).


Dr. Matthews is active in the AAPMR, AAP, ACPDM and Gait and Clinical Movement Analysis Society. He is the past Chairman of the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.


Leslie Morse, DO


Dr. Leslie Morse, DO, is the Endowed Medical Director of Research, Craig Hospital and Associate Professor, Department of PMR, University of Colorado.  


Her research, as well as her clinical focus, is the care of individuals with SCI, with a long-term goal of developing mechanism-based therapies to prevent and treat SCI-induced osteoporosis. To that end, she is studying the effect of robotic-assisted gait-training on bone health with a clinical trial award from the Department of Defense.  She is also the Co-Project Director of the Rocky Mountain Regional Spinal Injury System.


Dr. Morse completed her medical training at the University of New England and her residency in PM&R at Boston Medical Center.  Author of more than 50 publications, she has received several national best-paper awards and presented her work nationally and internationally.

Research interests:  spinal cord injury and osteoporosis, therapies for bone health in SCI, biomarkers of bone health in SCI.

Carmen M. Terzic, MD, PhD
carmen terzic

Dr. Terzic is Chair of the Department of Medicine and Rehabilitation with a joint appointment in the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases, Department of Internal Medicine, at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She is associate medical director of Cardiovascular Rehabilitation program and holds the academic rank of Professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Dr. Terzic received the M.D. degree at University Centro Occidental Lisandro Alvarado,Venezuela. She completed a residency at University Hospital in Barquisimeto and a fellowship at Inter-American Bank of Development and Venezuelan National Council of Research, Science and Technology. She received the M.Sci. degree in physiology and biophysics from the Venezuelan National Institute for Research and the Ph.D. degree in Pharmacology from Mayo Graduate School. Furthermore, Dr. Terzic completed a postdoctoral fellowship in cardiovascular research, an internship in the Department of Internal Medicine and a residency in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation – all at Mayo Clinic.

Dr. Terzic has received numerous honors and awards during her training and career, such as the Earl Elkins Award for outstanding Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Resident and the Outstanding Senior Research Presentation Award from Mayo Clinic; the Young Investigator Award and the Antonio Jose de Sucre Award for academic excellence from the Ministry of Science, Government of the Republic of Venezuela; and chancellor’s recognition as the top graduate of the medical school class from Lisandro Alvarado Mid-Western University. Dr. Terzic received the Distinguished Academician Award from the Association of Academic Physiatrists in April, 2011.

She holds professional memberships in organizations including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation and the Association of Academic Physiatrists. In addition, Dr. Terzic serves on Mayo Clinic committees and as a teacher and mentor. She has given multiple presentations around the world. She serves on the editorial board of the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Her clinical interests include cardiovascular and neuromuscular rehabilitation, and her research focuses on regenerative medicine and stem cell-based cardiac repair, nuclear transport, intracellular calcium homeostasis. As a principal investigator and co-investigator, her work has been funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; and the American Heart Association, among other organizations. Dr. Terzic has reported research findings in over 80 manuscripts and textbook chapters. Her work has been published in leading journals, such as Science, Nature Cell Biology, Science Translational Medicine, Circulation, Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention, Circulation Research, Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Genome Biology and Stem Cells.

She is active on a number of national and international specialty societies and is recognized globally for her groundbreaking research and contributions to national and international clinical guidelines and practice in the area of cardiovascular diseases/prevention and rehabilitation. 

In her personal time, Dr. Terzic was a competitive fencer since the age of 8 and a member of the national fencing team of Venezuela during the years 1978-1992. She entered The Sport Hall of Fame in Venezuela in 2012. She enjoys reading and art — and often visits the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Walker Art Center and the Ordway Theater.


NIH Program Official: Ralph Nitkin, PhD
ralph nitkin

Ralph Nitkin, Ph.D., is the Deputy Director of the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research (NCMRR), which is located within the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the NIH.  He received his undergraduate and Master’s degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the area of biological sciences, and his Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego in cellular neurobiology.  His postdoctoral studies at Stanford University and later work as an assistant professor at Rutgers University focused on the cellular and molecular basis of nerve-muscle synapse formation.  For the past 24 years he has worked as a science administrator at the NICHD, first in the area of mental retardation and developmental disabilities and for the last fifteen years in the area of medical rehabilitation. 

Dr. Nitkin has been heavily involved in the formation of the rehabilitation research infrastructure networks (www.NCMRR.ORG), the annual rehab grant-writing workshop (formerly ERRIS, currently called TIGRR), and special career-development networks for physiatrists, for physical/occupational therapists, and more recently for rehab engineers. He has helped promote NIH research initiatives in such diverse areas as genomic factors that affect rehab outcomes, promotion of exercise and diet in children with disabilities, clinical trial design in rehab, technologies for healthy independent living, and research workforce diversity. He looks forward to continuing to work with rehab researchers as well as those from allied fields.


Michelle Johnson, PhD

Dr. Michelle Johnson is currently Assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Pennsylvania.  She has a secondary appointment as an Assistant professor in Bioengineering and is a member of the Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics graduate group. She has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, with an emphasis in mechatronics, robotics, and design, from Stanford University.  She completed a NSF-NATO post-doctoral fellowship at the Advanced Robotics Technology and Systems Laboratory at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Italy. She directs the Rehabilitation Robotic Research and Design Laboratory located at the new Pennsylvania Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Medicine. The lab is affiliated with the GRASP Lab. The lab specializes in the design, development, and therapeutic use of novel, affordable, intelligent robotic assistants for rehabilitation. Dr. Johnson’s research currently focuses on using robotics to understand arm dysfunction and recovery after brain injury.  


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