Public Release: 

Kessler Foundation wins DOD grant to test virtual reality in balance dysfunction after TBI

Collaborative study will compare VR-based balance treatment with traditional treatment methods for rehabilitating balance dysfunction after TBI

Kessler Foundation


IMAGE: Drs. Krch and Nolan are research scientists at Kessler Foundation. view more

Credit: Kessler Foundation

West Orange, NJ. November 20, 2014. Kessler Foundation is the recipient of a four-year grant for nearly $3 million from the Defense Medical Research and Development Program (DMRDP) Department of Defense (DOD) titled, "Improving Balance in Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Using a Low-Cost Customized Virtual Reality Technology". Principal investigators (PI) of the Clinical and Rehabilitative Medicine Research Program (CRMRP) Neurosensory Research Award (W81XWH-14-2-0150) are research scientists Karen Nolan, PhD, and Denise Krch, PhD.

Three sites are collaborating with the Foundation on the study: Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation (Co-Investigators: Neil Jasey, MD, and Irene Ward, PT, DPT, NCS); National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) Satellite Fort Belvoir Community Hospital (Co-Investigator: Maulik P. Purohit, MD, MPH); and Institute for Creative Technologies, University of Southern California (Co-Investigators: Rachel Proffitt, OTD, OTR/L and Albert "Skip" Rizzo, PhD). An additional recruitment site is the VA New Jersey Health Care System-East Orange Campus (Consultant: Glenn Wylie, DPhil).

The sequelae of TBI, a major health concern for U.S. military and civilian populations, include balance problems, which affect approximately 65% of the TBI population. Even minor impairments can adversely affect balance performance, causing disability. Cognitive issues in this population often complicate the treatment of balance problems.

Because available treatments are limited in their ability to replicate real world situations, this study explores the application of virtual reality (VR) technology, which enables the creation of a virtual world through which users engage in treatment exercises. Mystic Isle, a VR-based balance treatment, utilizes the Microsoft Kinect sensor connected to a PC. Specially developed software tracks 'players' in 3D space as they engage in a range of physical and cognitive activities and tasks that are customizable to individual levels of ability. The scientists plan to evaluate whether Mystic Isle is more effective than existing treatments in improving balance and quality of life. Because carrying out two tasks at the same time (i.e., dual task), is a skill critical in the real world, scientists will also look at the relative effectiveness of dual-task (balance and cognitive) VR training to improve balance.

"Mystic Isle is a low-cost therapy option that can be readily adapted to inpatient, outpatient and home-based rehabilitation, making it a valuable adjunct to conventional therapy," said John DeLuca, PhD, senior VP of Research & Training at Kessler Foundation. "This project may establish Mystic Isle as the basis for providing tele-rehabilitation via remote supervision, which would bring necessary services to service members, veterans and civilians in distant locations."


About TBI Research at Kessler Foundation

Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD, is director of TBI Research and Neuropsychology & Neuroscience Research. Dr. Chiaravalloti is project director of the Northern New Jersey TBI System (NNJTBIS), a collaborative effort of Kessler Foundation, Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, and local hospitals. John DeLuca, PhD is co-project director. NNJTBIS is one of 16 federally funded model systems that form a national comprehensive system of care, research, education and dissemination aimed at improving quality of life for people with TBI. NNJTBIS is supported by grant #H133A120030 from the National Institute on Disability & Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). In addition to NIDRR and the Department of Defense, TBI research is funded by the New Jersey Commission on Brain Injury Research, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Children's Specialized Hospital. Kessler researchers and clinicians have faculty appointments in the department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

About Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility and long-term outcomes, including employment, for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities.

For more information, visit

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Lauren Scrivo, 973.324.8384/973.768.6583 (cell);
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