The Department of Veterans Affairs and United Spinal Association forged ongoing partnership programs in 1999 under the leadership of the Director of Rehabilitation R&D to enhance the common goals of improving the care and treatment of individuals with spinal cord injury and to foster research. The intent of these collaborative programs is to improve clinical and research skills and enhance knowledge of VA clinicians and researchers.
The United Spinal Association Scholar Award program was established in the year 2000 within the Career Scientist Program of VA Rehabilitation Research & Development Service. It is a nationally competitive program that uses a peer review system to critique and judge award applications. In 2002, the name of the award was changed to honor the long-standing and significant contributions of James J. Peters. The goals of the program are to encourage SCI clinicians and researchers to pursue an active role in conducting research to investigate complications and solutions to the consequences of SCI. The overall goal is to improve clinical and research skills and expand the knowledge of VA clinicians and researchers.
The recipients of the James J. Peters Scholar Award Program are:
Dr. Wecht is a physiologist at the Bronx VA Medical Center, a Principal Investigator at the Bronx VA Center of Excellence for the Medical Consequences of Spinal Cord Injury and an Assistant Professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. She is a current VA Research Career Development (RCD) Awardee for her work in the investigation of blood pressure control mechanisms in SCI patients, specifically when they are trying to stand. Dr. Wecht received her doctorate from Columbia University in 1999. She received an Associate Investigator Award from the VA Rehabilitation Research Service in 2000 to begin her work on vascular control and cardiac function during orthostatic challenge in patients with paraplegia.
In addition to her RCD award, Dr. Wecht is a co-investigator on a VA merit review grant to study bone loss prevention in SCI patients, she is a collaborator on a NIDDR-sponsored project to study the prevalence, management and maintenance of weight loss in overweight and obese SCI patients and she is the co-principal investigator on a study sponsored by the Bronx Center of Excellence to evaluate testosterone replacement therapy in person with chronic paraplegia.
Dr. Hajime Tokuno is a Research Fellow with the VA Center of Excellence for Restoration of Function in Spinal Cord Injury and Multiple Sclerosis located at the West Haven VA Medical Center. In addition, he is the Director of the Clinical Neurophysiology Laboratory at the VA Connecticut Health Care Center. Dr. Tokuno received his medical degree from the George Washington, School of Medicine in 1993 and completed his residency in neurology at Yale University, School of Medicine in 1997. In 2002, Dr. Tokuno received a Career Development Award from the VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Service to conduct research on Schwann cell transplantation for the restoration of function in patients with spinal cord injury or disease. His research interests include clinical and laboratory electrophysiology, new drug designs for pain medications, and spinal cord and peripheral nerve injury and repair. Dr. Tokuno is currently investigating action of novel local anesthetics for the treatment of chronic pain in diseases involving the spinal cord, nerve root and peripheral nerves.
Dr. Ronald Girondo is a clinical psychologist at the Tampa VA Medical Center. Dr. Girondo received his PhD in Clinical Psychology from Kent State University in 1998 and he subsequently completed an internship in psychology at the Tampa VA. In 2000, Dr. Girondo received and Associate Investigator Award from the VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Service for his work on validating and field testing a nationwide system to collect data on outcome measures for the treatment of chronic pain. In 2002, Dr. Girondo received the Research Career Development Award from the VA to conduct research on chronic pain in SCI patients. Specifically, his research involved developing a standardized instrument to accurately assess treatment effectiveness for chronic pain in SCI patients and the conduct of a clinical trial to compare three different interventions for the treatment of upper extremity pain. Recently, Dr. Girondo received funding from the VA Rehabilitation Research Service to conduct a study for the evaluation of a device used to measure and record the activity of the wearer. Potentially, this device could be used to collect objective measures and record the activity that will be used to assess the effectiveness of interventions used to treat SCI patients with chronic pain.
Dr. Margot Damaser is a Research Career Scientist (awarded 2004) at the Cleveland VA Medical Center and is a Principal Investigator with the VA Center of Excellence for Functional Electrical Stimulation. She received her PhD in bioengineering from the University of California at Berkeley and completed her post doctoral training at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Division of Urology, in Philadelphia. Dr. Damaser was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE 2000) and received the Advanced Rehabilitation Research Career Development Award in 1998 to study the biomechanics and clinical applications of home bladder monitoring in spinal cord injury patients. Her research focuses on the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of urological complications of spinal cord injury such as incontinence, chronic urinary tract infections and high bladder pressures.
Dr. Damaser has been awarded several research grants from the VA as well as outside the VA, including over $1 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, private foundations and pharmaceutical companies. She is currently one of only a handful of researchers in the world studying the effects of neuron-regenerative techniques on bladder function improvement in SCI patients. Currently, Dr. Damaser is funded by the VA to study the neuron-therapeutic effects of estrogen on injured spinal motorneurons. The long term goal of this work is to develop a short-term treatment in combination with rehabilitation exercises to accelerate neuron-regeneration and restoration of normal urinary function.
Dr. David Gater is a Principal Investigator at the Ann Arbor VA Medical Center, where he also serves as the Director of the SCI Exercise Laboratory. In addition, he is the Medical Director of the Model Spinal Cord Injury Care System at the University of Michigan. Dr. Gater received his PhD in physiology as well as his medical degree, specializing in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, from the University of Arizona. Recently, Dr. Gater completed a VA Research Career Development Award during which time his research focused on the effect of exercise on glucose tolerance and body composition in SCI patients. In 2005, he was awarded a three-year grant from the VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Service to evaluate and compare the impact of lower extremity functional electrical stimulation on obesity and associated variables such as insulin sensitivity and lipid metabolism in patients with complete paraplegia.
In addition, Dr. Gater is currently a co-investigator on two other VA merit review grants, one of which is evaluating the benefits of physical activity in SCI patients, while the other is a quantitative evaluation of the effects of an implanted neuroprosthesis for standing and transfers after spinal cord injury. Finally, Dr. Gater is the principal investigator on a grant funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to study the psychological and physiological aspect of menopause in women with SCI. Dr. Gater has numerous publications in scientific journals as well as book chapters on exercise therapies for patients with spinal cord injuries.