Spinal Cord

  • Azuero, Casey B., Ph.D., MPH


    Associate Professor
    Interim Director of Psychology

    Areas of Interest
    Spinal Cord Injury, Cancer, Chronic Illness

  • Biney and Wen named recipients of CEDHARS pilot program

    CEDHARS pilot funding recipientsThe Center for Engagement in Disability Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (CEDHARS) selected Fedora Biney, Ph.D. and Huacong Wen, Ph.D. as recipients of its spring 2023 pilot grant funding opportunity, “Secondary Data Analysis to Advance Health or Rehabilitation Outcomes Research in People with Disabilities.”

    Fedora Biney, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation was selected for her research project “The Impact of Pre-injury Psychiatric Difficulties and Post-injury Emotional Distress on Caregiving Needs in Caregivers of Traumatic Brain Injury Survivors”.

    Huacong Wen, Ph.D., Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Postdoctoral Researcher, will receive funding for her research project “The Impacts of COVID-19 Pandemic on Causes of Death and Mortality rate among People with Spinal Cord Injury”.

    Each researcher will each receive $25,000 for one year.

    The overarching mission of the UAB Center for Engagement in Disability Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (CEDHARS) is to advance scientific discovery, translational research, education, and engagement in the fields of disability health and rehabilitation sciences. This pilot program aims to support the advancement of disability health research, and this specific funding cycle intended on increasing the field of inclusion sciences, adapting traditional research to be inclusive of people with disabilities.

    To read the abstracts for each of the projects, click here.

  • Buchanan Renfro, Cassandra, DO


    Assistant Professor

    Areas of Interest
    Spinal Cord Injury, Transverse Myelitis, Wound Care, Osteopathic Manual Medicine

  • Chen Promoted to PM&R Vice Chair of Research

    Dr. ChenProfessor Yuying Chen, M.D., Ph.D. has been promoted to Vice Chair of Research for the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation  (PM&R) in the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine (HSOM). Chen served as Research Director prior to her promotion.

    Dr. Chen joined the department of PM&R faculty in 2000 and has served as Project Director of the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center since 2005. She has gained international recognition for her research involving epidemiology, mortality, and secondary conditions after spinal cord injury (SCI), including obesity, racial health disparities, and social determinants of health. Chen’s most recent honors include being selected to serve on the American Spinal Injury Association Board of Directors, awarded The American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine’s (ACRM) SCI Interdisciplinary Special Interest Group Margaret Nosek Award, selected for the UAB Healthcare Leadership Academy Class of 2023, and recognized by The Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation with the Most Cited Original Research Article Award.

    “It is my privilege and honor to promote Dr. Chen to the Vice Chair of Research role. She is a passionate researcher who, through her work, has greatly advanced the worldwide standard of care for those living with spinal cord injury,” states Vu Nguyen, M.D., chair of the Department. We are very fortunate to have had her leadership over the years. It is my hope that we can capture her energy and brilliance to elevate the level of research in the department and at UAB. It’s a great day for UAB PM&R research,” exclaims Nguyen.”

    Dr. Chen is a board-certified physiatrist from Taiwan and epidemiologist with extensive training and experience in database management, research methodology, and statistical analysis. She has led a number of studies and published more than 94 manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals, many of which involved the use of the National SCI Database.

    “I look forward to this new chapter of my research career, leading a team of remarkable researchers to expand the Department’s research portfolio and advance rehabilitation science,” said Dr. Chen.

    Dr. Chen is the Co-Director for the UAB Center for Engagement in Disability Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. She also serves on the Heersink School of Medicine Faculty Council and Committee on Responsible Research Practices as well as PM&R’s Promotion and Tenure, Finance, Journal Club, and Grand Rounds Committees.

  • Chen to serve on the American Spinal Injury Association Board of Directors

    Dr. ChenThe American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) selected Yuying Chen, M.D., Ph.D. to serve on the organization’s board of directors.

    Professor Yuying Chen, M.D., Ph.D. is the Director of Research in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine. Since 2005, she has served as Project Director of the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, which is within the department of PM&R. She has led a number of studies and published over 100 manuscripts and book chapters, most of which involved the use of the National SCI Database.

    Chen is well-known for her commitment to advancing research in spinal cord injury research. Her exemplary leadership within the American Spinal Injury Association, overall contributions to the field, as well as being a well-respected thought leader, are among the reasons for her nomination.

    As a member of the ASIA BOD, Chen will serve the organization in multiple capacities, including engaging as a board liaison to committee(s); contributing to organizational development and membership,; and promoting the vision of the organization.

    The American Spinal Injury Association’s mission is to advance care, education, and research to improve the lives of persons affected by spinal cord injury. ASIA is governed by a Board of Directors, whose membership composition is reflective of the multidisciplinary nature of its members. There are 10 Directors, three of whom also serve as elected Officers. Board members may serve up to 3 two-year terms, for a total 6 years.

  • Chen, Yuying, M.D., Ph.D.

    Chen cropProfessor
    Director, National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center
    Vice Chair of Research

    Areas of Interest
    Spinal Cord Injury

  • Cowan, Rachel E, PhD


    Associate Professor
    Project Director, UAB Spinal Cord Injury Model System

    Areas of Interest
    Spinal Cord Injury, Exercise, Fitness, Activities of Daily Living, Wheelchairs, Mobility, Functional Independence, Outcome Measures

  • Latorre and Cowan elected to represent Heersink School of Medicine on the UAB Faculty Senate

    Spina Bifida world congressJohan Latorre, M.D. and Rachel Cowan, Ph.D., both faculty members in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, have been elected to represent Heersink School of Medicineon the 2023-2025 UAB Faculty Senate.

    The Faculty Senate represents UAB’s faculty in matters of shared governance. The Senate is made up of faculty representatives from all of UAB’s academic units, as well as four officers elected at large by the faculty. Through participation in various councils and committees, the senators will convey the faculty’s views and concerns in matters that affect our University.

    “I have been a part of multiple large organizations within institutions such as the Resident Physician Union at the University of Michigan that helped improve the lives of the residents. Now as faculty at UAB, I want to do the same. Being a Senator allows me to have a say in the direction UAB takes and not just the health system/medical school community but the campus as a whole,” Dr. Latorre said.

    The incoming Chair of the Faculty Senate, Karen Cropsey, will assign every Senate member to serve as a member of a Faculty Senate Standing Committee. Some senate members may also be asked to serve on University-wide Committees. This two-year service term begins September 1, 2023, and ends August 31, 2025.

    “I’m honored to serve as a faculty senator for UAB. It gives me the opportunity to learn more about university operations at a higher level outside my area of research. I’m glad I can be a voice for the concerns of researchers not heard outside Heersink School of Medicine.” Dr. Cowan stated.

  • PM&R Research Publication Quick Review: Effects of a Low-Carbohydrate, High-Protein Diet on Gut Microbiome Composition

    Dr. ChenPast research suggests that an imbalance of gut bacteria develops after spinal cord injury (SCI). This imbalance can lead to cardiometabolic diseases like obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

    The UAB Spinal Cord Injury Model System (UAB-SCIMS) conducted a research study that looked at the effect of a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet on the gut microbiome (the makeup of the bacteria that are in the digestive tract). The diet included lean meats, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

    UAB-SCIMS researchers recruited 19 adults who were at least 3 years post-injury. They were between 18–65 years of age and with different levels and severity of injury. The study divided participants at random into one of two groups. The study group had all of their weekly meals provided and delivered to their homes. A dietitian tailored the meals to each person’s taste preferences and made sure the meals met the healthy dietary guidelines of providing 40% energy from carbohydrates, 30% energy from protein, and 30% energy. The control group continued their usual diet.

    The gut microbiome was measured from stool samples collected from both groups at the start of the study and at the end of the study 8 weeks later. The result was that people with SCI who eat a healthy, low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet showed improved gut microbiome. These results may lead to an easy, patient-focused method to improve the imbalance of gut bacteria that can help prevent cardiometabolic disorders.

    This study was funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research and published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

  • Powell, Danielle, MD


    Associate Professor
    Vice-Chair of Clinical Operations

    Areas of Interest
    Spina Bifida, Cerebral Palsy, Musculoskeletal Medicine, Botox, Electromyography

  • Richardson, Elizabeth, Ph.D., MSPH


    Assistant Professor

    Areas of Interest
    Effective components of virtual reality as a potential treatment modality and psychological aspects of pain perception. 

  • Twist, Elizabeth, M.D.


    Assistant Professor

    Areas of Interest
    Spinal Cord Injury, Neurorehabilitation, Spasticity

  • UAB PM&R set to launch its latest research study into the importance of microbiome on health and function after spinal cord injury

    microscope for researchMost people have no idea what microbiome is. Yet, it is one of the most important contributors to our health and wellness.

    Simply put, microbiome is all of the microscopic microbes that live on and in our bodies. This includes bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their genes.

    The UAB Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation has been at the forefront of the emerging research into the importance of microbiome on health and function after spinal cord injury (SCI). With its latest research, UAB aims to look specifically into the impact of gut microbiome on metabolic and bowel function during the first year after SCI.

    “There’s typically slower intestinal movement of waste after SCI that leads to leakage of bile and harmful bacteria into the bloodstream,” says Jereme Wilroy, Ph.D., principal investigator and assistant professor in the Department. “Harmful bacteria in the blood can damage the body’s organs and lead to metabolic disorders and associated complications like obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, all conditions that people with chronic SCI are at an increased for developing.”

    For the study, patients will be enrolled in the first few weeks after injury and followed for a year. During that time, periodic blood and stool samples will be collected along with surveys of their bowel function. Samples will be analyzed for microbiome changes. Finding changes may lead to the development of an inexpensive, non-invasive diet- or supplement-based treatment option for improving the health and quality of life for persons with SCI.

    This study is the site-specific research project of the UAB Spinal Cord Injury Model System.

  • UAB Spina Bifida Program shines on a global stage

    Spina Bifida world congressAt the largest World Congress on Spina Bifida Research and Care (SBWC) in event history, representatives from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Children’s of Alabama made up 17% of the total platform presentations, with 23 oral and 13 poster presentations.

    The SBWC, held this year on March 22-25 in Tucson, AZ, is the sole international conference that focuses entirely on researching, addressing practical challenges and finding real-world solutions for those affected by spina bifida. Every five years, spina bifida patients, their families and caregivers, healthcare providers and advocacy groups gather at the SBWC to share the latest findings in spina bifida research.

    Members of the UAB Medicine community were involved at all levels of the event, with Professor and Chief of Pediatric Urology David Joseph, M.D., and Spina Bifida Association (SBA) Professional Advisory Council members Pediatric Neurosurgery Division Associate Professor Brandon Rocque, M.D., MS, and STEP Program Director and Spina Bifida Program Director Betsy Hopson, MSHA, all serving on the SBWC planning committee.

    Faculty members from various departments, researchers, program managers and medical students in the Heersink School of Medicine all came together to represent UAB at the SBWC.

    “Creating a learning environment that instills confidence in our students is essential to their future success, so we encourage them to take every opportunity to present their research,” said Department of Neurosurgery Clinical Research Manager Anastasia Smith, MPH. “Presenting at a major conference can be intimidating, but I think that our students’ willingness to participate speaks to the culture that our attending physicians have created.”

    Smith, alongside Hopson, was instrumental in ensuring each student was fully prepared to present their abstract submission(s).

    On the third day of the SBWC, Rocque served as the moderator for the Neurosurgery B Breakout Session and UAB hosted the by-invite-only Neurosurgeons’ Meeting. Key research topics presented by UAB and COA representatives included prenatal, postnatal and lifetime care, hydrocephalus, adult care clinics, treatment safety, myelomeningoceles and more.

    Professor and Pediatric Division Director in the UAB Department of Neurosurgery Jeffrey Blount, M.D., MPH, delivered an oral presentation discussing recent advocacy initiatives by the Global Alliance for the Prevention of Spina Bifida (GAPSBiF), a global coalition for food fortification as a means to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects.

    “Our students did a fantastic job representing UAB. The SBWC is a meeting that only comes along every five years and there are many countries and institutions represented. Throughout the event, there were discussions in each room about how to build what UAB has done,” said Hopson, who has worked at UAB for nearly two decades. “It was an honor and such a source of pride to share our students on a global stage. The Heersink School of Medicine has so much to be proud of with this group!”

    Under Hopson’s leadership, the UAB Spina Bifida Clinic has been funded by the CDC for the National Spina Bifida Patient Registry (NSBPR) since the registry’s inception and enrolled more participants with more complete data than any other center in the U.S.

    The 2023 SBWC hosted nearly 500 attendees representing 18 countries, 35 U.S. states and the District of Columbia and more than 100 health and research institutions worldwide. Sharing spina bifida research and advocating for patients globally is essential in the fight against healthcare disparities on a global scale. By including patients and their families and caregivers in this exchange of knowledge, spina bifida advocacy is expanded to help identify gaps in care and develop strategies to address them, regardless of a patient’s location or socioeconomic status.

    SBA Medical Director Timothy Brei, M.D., welcomed spina bifida patients and their advocates saying, "You are the reason we are here. Your input into research design and participation in research is crucial."

    UAB has made significant progress in spina bifida care over the last three decades. In 1993, UAB established its first spina bifida care program, making it one of the longest standing programs in the country, and by 2006, had gained recognition as a premier spina bifida care provider.

    In 2012, UAB formed a partnership with COA, creating the Lifetime Care Model, ensuring a seamless transition from pediatric to adult care. The UAB Transitional Spina Bifida Clinic, one of the only clinics of its kind, is supported by the Departments of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Neurosurgery and Urology.

    In 2020, the UAB Adult Multidisciplinary Spina Bifida Clinic received one of the first SBA Clinic Care Partner designations.

    “UAB has the only spina bifida program in the Southeast region that provides multidisciplinary care for individuals with spina bifida for their entire lifespan,” said UAB Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Vice-Chair of Clinical Operations and Adult Multidisciplinary Spina Bifida Clinic Medical Director Danielle Powell, M.D. “Our team is also dedicated to ameliorating the health challenges faced by our patients, which is evident by our representation at the 2023 SBWC.”

    This article was written in collaboration between the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and the Department of Neurosurgery.

  • Wilroy, Jereme D., Ph.D.


    Associate Professor
    Project Co-Director, UAB Spinal Cord Injury Model System

    Areas of Interest
    Physical Disability, Spinal Cord Injury, Exercise, Adherence, Psychosocial Factors, Telehealth, eHealth, mHealth, Behavior Modification

  • Yuying Chen, M.D., Ph.D. selected to receive the ACRM 2023 SCI-ISIG Margaret Nosek Award

    Dr. ChenThe American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine’s (ACRM) Spinal Cord Interdisciplinary Special Interest Group selected Yuying Chen, M.D., Ph.D. to receive the Margaret Nosek Award.

    The Award is given each year as part of the Margaret Nosek Lecture series presented by ACRM SCI-ISIG. This Award recognizes an individual who demonstrates drive and commitment to advancing scientific knowledge, developing standards of clinical practice, raising awareness, and advocating for appropriate health care and community support for women with disabilities.

    Dr. Margaret Nosek was an internationally recognized authority on the health of women with disabilities and the Margaret Nosek Award recognizes her contributions through more than 30 years of sharing and disseminating knowledge as a researcher and advocate of disability rights.

    “I am so very proud of Dr. Chen for having received this most prestigious award. Dr. Margaret Nosek was a strong champion of rehabilitation research, independent living, and the rights of women with disability. To be an awardee reflects on Dr. Chen’s national stature as a researcher and a leader,” states Vu Nguyen, M.D., chair of the UAB PM&R Department. “Dr. Chen is well recognized in the world of spinal cord Injury (SCI) research and has been the PI of our NIDILRR National SCI Statistical Center 5-year grant currently in its fourth cycle. As impressive as that fact is, it is even more incredible to recognize that UAB PM&R has been the sole holder of this national grant continuously since 1983! Dr. Chen has earned our thanks and will no doubt be recognized among the greatest rehabilitation researchers in our specialty. She is truly deserving of the Margaret Nosek Award.”

    Dr. Chen will be recognized as the award winner at the upcoming ACRM Annual Conference in October in Atlanta, GA. This event is the premier interdisciplinary conference for rehabilitation research. Dr. Chen will give a lecture on her research and the future of Spinal Cord Injury rehabilitation.

    “I am thrilled to be honored with this award of Dr. Nosek’s namesake. She was such a hero in advocating for the health and wellness of women with disability. I am certainly standing on the shoulder of many giants, including the former chair of the Department, Dr. Amie McLain. Dr. McLain built the first reproductive health clinic for women with disabilities at UAB and has inspired me in research to ensure equitable and quality health care for women with disability,” said Chen.

    Professor Yuying Chen, M.D., Ph.D. is the Director of Research in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine. Since 2005, she has served as Project Director of the National SCI Statistical Center, which is within the department of PM&R, and has led a number of studies and published over 100 manuscripts and book chapters, most of which involved the use of the National SCI Database.