Research Labs

There are multiple labs on site at Virginia Commonwealth University, where physical therapy faculty and students conduct research across a wide spectrum of clinically relevant topics. In addition departmental faculty engage in clinical research and collect data at various clinical sites in the greater Richmond area as well as various sites across the U.S.


Benjamin J. Darter, PT, Ph.D.

Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center
1201 Broad Rock Blvd, Room 1W-100A
Richmond, VA 23249

Lab Mission:
To advance rehabilitation medicine by increasing our understanding of the abilities and barriers faced by individuals with physical disabilities. 

Research Interest:
To develop and investigate interventions which facilitate optimal functional performance in persons with lower extremity amputation or other polytraumatic injury.

Lab Description:
The laboratory is a newly developed 800 sq ft (74 sq meters) space used for rehabilitation research. The laboratory maintains a 16-camera motion capture system for recording activity occurring on an instrumented split-belt treadmill with adjustable incline abilities, and an overground walkway with 4 imbedded force sensing platforms. A portable metabolic testing system and a 16-channel wireless EMG system are also housed within the laboratory.

Current Projects

Effects of Impaired Limb Function on Gait Adaptability (Funded by a VCU Center for Clinical and Translational Research Endowment Award)
Gait Adaptability and Split-Belt Walking in Persons with Lower Extremity Amputation (Funded by a National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences Career Development Award)
Safety Study of Percutaneous Osseointegrated Implants for Prosthetic Attachment (Funded by the VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Service)
An Exploration of Employment Barriers and Employment Skill Enhancement of Veterans with Traumatic Amputations (Funded by the Department of Education)


  • Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center
  • Center for Performance and Clinical Research, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, MD
  • University of  Utah and Salt Lake City VA Medical Center
  • VCU Rehabilitation Research and Training Center

Current Students

Dan Syrett, Ph.D. Student

B.S. Biology, Colorado State University, 2007

DPT Physical Therapy, Virginia Commonwealth University, 2012

Dan is a practicing orthopedic Physical Therapist. His research interests include biomechanics of the lower extremity, gait mechanics, and developing effective interventions for use in the clinical setting. He started his Ph.D. studies in fall 2017.


Tanu Bhargava, Ph.D. Student

B.S. Physical Therapy, Manipal University, India, 2014

M.S. Kinesiology, University of Michigan, 2017

Tanu began working on a Ph.D. in fall 2015. Her research interests include bridging the gap between exercise physiology and biomechanics with a focus on motor control. She started her Ph.D. studies in fall 2017.


B.S. Athletic Training, Appalachian State University, 2009

M.S. Health and Movement Sciences, Virginia Commonwealth University, 2013

Matt started working toward a Ph.D. in 2015. His research interest includes understanding how different feedback modalities can be designed to inform purposeful movements. 

Engineering and Biomechanics Research Lab

Lab director – Peter Pidcoe, PT, DPT, PhD

The lab participates in collaborative research in the fields of motor control, biomechanics and human performance. Collaborations include members of the schools of medicine, engineering and nursing, in addition to outside institutions.


  • Motion Monitor Systems: for recording, synchronizing and analyzing data.
  • Bertec Non-conductive and AMTI Force Plates.
  • Electromyography (EMG) Systems.
  • GAITRite™ walkway
  • Eyelink 500Hz eyetracker (SR Research)
  • HMD 250Hz eyetracker (SMI)
  • Rapid prototyping equipment (3D printers, 150W laser cutter, 3D CNC)

Current projects

  • Development of a Robotic Gait Trainer – Cost effective gait trainer targeted for use in a hemi-paretic stroke population.
  • Development of a Prone Progression Crawler – Robotic trainer to assist quadraped ambulation in children with movement disorders and who are visually impaired
  • Visual Feedback Phase Delays – Investigating the impact of visual feedback phase delays during balance tasks
  • Ankle Sprain Prediction – Development of a fatigue monitor to predict performance changes in athletes
  • EMG / man-machine interface – Development of improved prosthetic controls
  • Navigational aids for the blind – Developing navigational aids for the blind population for use in open environments

Past Projects

  • Computational Modeling of the Instantaneous Helical Axis of Rotation of the Knee – Identifying the intersection of the tibial and fibular rotation on the meniscus
  • Botox for Non-surgical Lateral Release in Patellofemoral Pain – Double-blind comparison Botox use in reducing patellofemoral pain
  • Vestibular and Visual Systems Comparison in Elite Athletes – Comparison of developmental differences between female gymnasts and age matched non-gymnasts
  • Balance and Vision Differences in Hearing Impaired Children – Investigating the role of vision in balance and postural control in children with vestibular deficits

Funded proposals

  • VIGOR Study (Virtual Immersive Gaming to Optimize Recovery in Low Back Pain)  Examine the impact of virtual gaming in recovery from LBP. - Collaboration with Ohio University, NIH (PA-16-160), coI, Thomas - PI. 2017-2022
  • RELIEF Study (Researching the Effectiveness of Lumbar Interventions for Enhancing Function Study) – Collaboration with Ohio University. Supplement to a parent R01 NIH R01 AT006978 (The RELIEF Study). The RELIEF Study is an exploratory Phase II randomized clinical trial (RCT) with a nested mechanistic design. 2016-2017
  • SIPPC3 Commercialization – Commercialization of the SIPPC 3 (Self-Initiated Prone Progressive Crawler) – A study designed to de-risk the commercialization of the SIPPC by constructing an optimized prototype, completing a case series research study, and developing a marketing plan.  Quest Innovation Fund – Virginia Commonwealth University, PI. 2016-2017
  • iWalk Rehabilitation Center Study – Continued development of a clinical decision tree for use in a rehabilitation setting. Sheltering Arms Foundation, PI. 2016 – 2019
  • Advanced Microsurgical Trainer - Development of a simulation and capillary pump for use in microsurgical training. The proposed system will collect performance metrics that include time-to-completion and quality-of-repair. Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund, coPI - 2018-2019
  • Smart Healthcare - Development of a wearable wireless health monitoring system for promoting recovery after lower limb skeletal injury. Collaborator, Xiao – PI. 2017-2019


  • Patent no. 9,308,414 (issued 4/12/2016) - Titled: Elliptically Based Robotic Gait Trainer (EBRGT)
  • Patent no. 9,060,914 (issued 6/23/2015) - Titled: Spasticity reducing closed-loop force-feedback control for post-stroke GAIT training
  • Patent no. 8,942,874 (issued 1/27/2015) - Titled: Self-Initiated Prone Progression Crawler


  • Britlin O’Shea (MS - BME), 2017 - “Eye movement control: An index for athleticism”
  • Daniel Shull (MS - BME), 2016 - “Altering a Runner’s Foot strike using a Modified Elliptical Trainer”
  • Trisha Massenzo (PhD - BME), 2016 - “An Investigation of Kinetic Visual Biofeedback on Dynamic Stance Symmetry”
  • Joshua Arenas (MS - BME), 2015 - “Evaluation of a Novel Myoelectric Training Device”
  • Lindsay Clayton (MS - BME), 2015 - “The Effects of Fatigue on Lower Extremity Kinetics and Kinematics in Subjects with Known Ankle Instability”
  • Timothy G Coffey (PhD - REMS), 2015 - "Effects of task and gender or lower extremity mechanics" - Currently: Assistant Professor, Longwood University
  • Richard Nuchols (MS - BME), 2013 - “Development of a velocity measuring visual assist haptic display for the blind”
  • Ryan Clingman (MS - BME), 2012 - “Evaluation of a Novel Myoelectric Training Device” - Currently: Product Development Engineer at Terumo Cardiovascular Systems
  • Jeff Frankart (MS - BME), 2012 - “Development of a Closed-Loop Force Reduction Mechanism in a Gait Rehabilitation Device” - Currently: Test Engineer for QubicaAMF
  • Cortney Bradford (PhD - REMS), 2011 - “Is gait training with the elliptically based robotic gait trainer (EBRGT) feasible in ambulatory patients after stroke?” - Currently: Scientist, Army Research Lab, Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD
  • Kristen Morgan (MS - BME), 2009 - “Use of a Tri-axial accelerometer to detect changes in landing performance associated with fatigue”
  • Harshad Hegde (MS - BME), 2009 - “Visual and vestibular differences in elite athletes” - Currently: Informatics Research Architect at Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation
  • Emily Carney (MS - BME), 2009 - “Evaluation of the instantaneous axis or rotation of the tibiofemoral joint with and without pathology”
  • Laura Maple (MS - BME), 2009 - “Evaluation of the effect of Botox on the treatment of patellofemoral pain syndrome”
  • Evie Burnet (PhD - REMS), 2008 - “Frontal plane pelvic drop in runners: causes and clinical implications” - Currently: Lecturer, Kinesiology and Health Sciences, William and Mary University
  • Dyer Deihl (PhD -  Anatomy), 2007 - “The role of the vestibulo-ocular reflex in balance recovery: changes associated with age” - Currently: Associate Professor, Krannert School of Physical Therapy, University of Indianapolis
  • Craig Hoovler (MS - BME), 2006 - “The effect of phase delayed visual feedback on balance” - Currently: Associate at Miles & Stockbridge, PC
  • Cortney Bradford (MS - BME), 2005 - “Mechanical energy estimates on a modified elliptical trainer”
  • David Reese (MS - BME), 2003 - “Development of modified elliptical trainer for efficient lower-limb stroke rehabilitation” - Currently: Associate Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP
  • Mike Madigan (PhD - BME), 2000 - “Biomechanical effects of fatigue during an abrupt change in direction” - Currently: Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Texas A&M University


  • Susan V. Duff, EdD, PT, OT/L, CHT, Associate Professor in the Crean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences, Department of Physical Therapy at Chapman University, CA.
  • Stacey Dusing, PhD, PT, PCS, Professor, Department of Physical Therapy, Virginia Commonwealth University, VA.
  • Robbie O'Shea, PT, PhD – Professor, Governors State University, IL
  • James S. Thomas, PT, PhD, Professor in the Division of Physical Therapy, School of Rehabilitation and Communication Sciences, James Thomas, PT, PhD – Ohio University, OH.
  • Dianne T.V. Pawluk, PhD – Associate Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Virginia Commonwealth University, VA.

 Media and Video Links:

  • Arron's Wish →  Researchers and students make boy's dream to ride a bike come true.
  • Go-Baby-Go collaboration → Collaboration with Children's Hospital of Richmond (CHoR) to modify battery operated cars for children with disabilities.
  • SIPPC development → Development of a robotic assist device to assist crawling in infants with disabilities.
  • VCU vent designs (COVID-19)  VCU developed two different ventilator systems during the COVID-19 crisis

Lab director – James Thomas, PT, PhD

The Motor Control Lab, under the direction of Dr. James S. Thomas, has been funded by the NIH since 2004. The primary focus of the MCL is to better understand control of trunk movements and how various orthopedic or neurologic impairments alter that control. We use state of the art technology, equipment, facilities, and strong research methods to investigate back pain.


Technology - Equipment used in the lab and a list of recent research studies.

Publications - A composite list of publications, presentations, and press.

People - The Motor Control Lab brings together experts in the field of motor control science. Directed by Dr. James Thomas, P.T, Ph.D., our lab includes physical therapists, engineers, neuroscientists, and more!

Media An example of the VR space


Current projects

  • Motor Behavior Immersive TechnologyWe combine state-of-the-art virtual reality and immersive technology with a real-time motion data collection system to study motor behavior and develop pain interventions. We have linked Unity Engine with The Motion Monitor, and by using Vicon Tracker marker clusters we have developed the ability to create a virtual world that maps precisely to the real world. Because these events are so tightly synchronized, we can create almost any environment and assess the effects of target size, target location, and speed of movement on performance in both healthy and impaired populations. In collaboration with Steven Coombes, University of Florida Laboratory for Rehabilitation Neuroscience, we are integrating EEG technology with our virtual environment to better understand neurophysiological mechanisms underlying pain and altered motor behaviors. Most recently we have developed a way to use Vive Pucks to track motion in real time which will potentially allow our novel interventions to move quickly from bench to bedside.
  • Reaching Tasks - Reaching tasks such as ringing a doorbell, wiping a child's face or retrieving the morning paper are so common in our everyday experience that we rarely contemplate the complexity of such motor tasks or the variety of movement patterns that can be used to perform them. There are an infinite number of joint configurations that can be used to complete these reaching tasks and studying these movements is important for shedding light on central nervous system control. The standardized reaching protocol developed by Dr. Thomas has been shown to be effective in assessing alterations in motor control strategy in individuals with both neurologic and orthopedic impairments.
  • Core Muscle Activation Test - The Motor Control Lab's Core Muscle Activation Test (CMAT) device is custom designed and fabricated to apply precision pulls to the torso to study trunk stiffness and motor coordination. The CMAT system consists of 4 parker motors which are controlled by custom LabVIEW software developed by Peter Pidcoe, Ph.D., PT, at Virginia Commonwealth University's Engineering and Biomechanics Research Lab. This perturbation system is fully integrated with our Vicon data collection system to allow us to collect real-time force and motion data during these suddenly applied perturbations. In addition to assessing motion and force, we also utilize a 16-channel Delys Trigno wireless EMG system to measure muscle activity.
  • Core Muscle Reflex Testing - We have modified an activator device typically used in chiropractic practice to apply a short duration pulse to the erector spinae muscle which elicits the short latency reflex response. This has allowed us to develop a robust method to assess short latency reflexes of the erector spinae.
  • Trunk Fatigue - The Motor Control Lab's Fatigue Table is a custom made articulated table that allows for the simultaneous measurement of muscle activity, force production, and position change during trunk extension activities. The table consists of one 6-degree of freedom load cell, one single-degree of freedom load cell, four 600 lb holding capacity electromagnets, two electrogoniometers, a 16-channel Delsys Bagnoli EMG system, and a custom made LabView control system. Using the Fatigue Table, we have the ability to measure the strength and endurance of the trunk extensor muscles during a variety of protocols. Using the HTC Vive headset, we can also have participants complete trunk extension tasks while fully immersed in Virtual Reality.
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation - A Magstim stimulator is interconnected and integrated with a 16-channel Delys Trigno wireless EMG system using paried pulse TMS to determine the level of excitator or inhibitory response to various interventions.
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation - Transcranial direct current stimulation (t-DCS) is a painless, non-invasive brain stimulation using direct current to stimulate specific areas of the brain. The lab performs t-DCS stimulation integrated with surface EMG of the trunk extensor muscles system to measure how this stimulus affects muscle activation in healthy controls and low back pain sufferers.
  • Lumbar Extension - We have modified a standard MED X Lumbar Machine by placing a load cell in series to measure both dynamic and static loading during trunk extension tasks. We have also placed a custom high gain potentiometer to precisely measure trunk angular displacement. This modified device is used to study the effects of load type on time-to-task failure as well as to quantify the effects of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation on force production of the trunk extensors.

Past Projects

  • RELIEF Study (Researching the Effectiveness of Lumbar Interventions for Enhancing Function Study)

Funded proposals

  • VIGOR - Virtual Immersive Gaming to Optimize Recovery in Low Back Pain (or VIGOR) is a research study using an interactive game that may help reduce fear and increase spine motion in individuals with low back pain. The purpose of the study is to learn a new way to treat back pain. You are being asked to consider this study because you have chronic lower back pain and may have fear associated with movement.


  • Megan Applegate, PhD -- Post-doctoral Research Fellow at Harvard University - Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering

Current People

  • Susanne van der Veen, Ph.D. -- Post-Doctoral Fellow -- Dr. van der Veen is a licensed physical therapist with clinical experience specializing in mobility in the elderly population with neurological and orthopedic disabilities. During her master’s degree and doctorate studies, the primary research focus has been on motor control and factors that affect foot placement accuracy. This determined how important balance is for safe gait and gait adaptability. - Since January 2018 she has been working with Dr. Thomas on various VR projects and is responsible for running the VIGOR study (Phase II RCT examining the effectiveness of virtual dodgeball to reduce pain in and disability in chronic low back pain). Further, she has worked with our lead programmer to develop a series VR tools for balance assessment and treatment.

Salford University, Salford, United Kingdom - 2018, Ph.D. Health Science
Vrije Universiteit van Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands - 2014, M.S. Human Movement Science
Hoge school van Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands - 2010, B.S. Physical Therapy 

  • Alexander Stamenkovic, Ph.D. -- Post-Doctoral Fellow -- Having a keen interest in the link between human structure and function, Dr. Stamenkovic’s research focuses on the underlying neuromuscular coordination that drives human movement. Under an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship, his doctoral studies (University of Wollongong, Australia) investigated the role that body posture plays in the control of balance and movement preparation during goal-directed reaching. During this time, he was awarded the University of Wollongong Vice Chancellor’s Sessional Award for Outstanding Contribution to Teaching and Learning (OCTAL) and inducted as a Fellow of the Wollongong Academy for Tertiary Teaching & Learning Experience (WATTLE). - Currently, he assists Dr. Thomas in the NIH-funded Phase II Clinical Trial, ‘Project VIGOR’ and is exploring how immersive technologies influence sensorimotor control. He is an active member of the International Society of Posture & Gait Research (ISPGR), holding roles on both the Communications and Strategic Planning committees. 

University of Wollongong, Australia – 2018, Ph.D. Motor Control
University of Wollongong, Australia – 2011, B.S. (Hons. Class I) Exercise Science 

  • Matt Underation -- Software Engineer -- Matt is a Software Engineer who specializes in VR/AR development using Unity Engine and C#. He also has experience with web development and creating web applications (NodeJs).  - Joining the team in early 2017, he worked with a small team of developers to create the VIGOR study VR games. Since then he has been developing game platforms for other research studies, as well as handling most things involving technology within the lab. 

Ohio University, B.S. Computer Science

 Media and Video Links:

Lab director

Stacey Dusing, PT, Ph.D.

The mission of the Motor Development Lab is to investigate the development of motor control and coordination in infants and young children with and without disabilities as well as the impact of physical therapy treatment on motor and cognitive development. The laboratory is located in the VCU Department of Physical Therapy and encompasses 300 square feet dedicated to the assessment of infants and children. The Motor Development Lab includes equipment and space for biomechanical, behavioral and clinical research assessments.

Virtual Lab Tour

download - Virtual Lab Tour


  • Video processing and behavioral coding computers
  • Motion Monitor System: for recording, synchronizing and analyzing data
  • Bertec Non-conductive Force Plate
  • Electromyography (EMG) System: Run Technologies 8 Channel Myopac Jr
  • Tekscan Conformat Pressure mapping system
  • Data reduction and analysis software: Matlab
  • Many standardized assessment tools for assessing motor development in infants and children 


Current projects

Does Timing Matter? Supporting Play Exploration and Development Intervention (SPEEDI2)

  • The purpose of this multi-site RCT is to evaluate the efficacy of Supporting Play Exploration and Developmental Intervention for infants born preterm. This proposal will evaluate efficacy in a cohort al born less than 29 weeks of gestation and compare the efficacy of the intervention started in the NICU or 3 months later.
  • Collaborative sites Virginia Commonwealth University / Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU including Physical Therapy, Biostatistics, Neonatology, Neurology and University of Virginia Neonatology and Developmental Pediatrics
  • NIH Formal title: Efficacy of Motor and Cognitive Intervention for Infants Born Preterm
  • Identifier: NCT03518736
  • Funding Source: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development
  • Press Release  


SPEEDI2_BrainBehavior: Relationship between CNS integrity and a Parent-Delivered Developmental Intervention for infants born very preterm

  • This project is a supplement to the SPEEDI2 clinical trial and will only enroll infants who are already enrolled in the SPEEDI2 Trial.
  • Collaborations between Virginia Commonwealth University / Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU Physical Therapy, Biostatistics, Neonatology, Neurology
  • The purpose of this project is to evaluate the feasibility and collect pilot data on the efficacy of the SPEEDI intervention (funded by an NIH R01) with different types of brain injuries and the neuroplasticity changes following early and intensive intervention.
  • Funding Source: Endowment Fund from the VCU C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research.


Play & Learning Across a Year (PLAY)

  • The purpose of this study is to develop a data set that focus on the behaviors of infants and mothers during natural activity in their homes. The data set will consist of fully transcribed and annotated videos, parent report questionnaires, video tours of the home, digital recordings of ambient noise, and detailed demographic information on 900+ infants and mothers from across the United States and Canada that will allow for collaborative analysis to a variety of research questions.
  • The project is led by Karen Adolphand Catherine Tamis-LeMonda of New York University and Rick Gilmore of The Pennsylvania State University.
  • VCU is a collaborating site
  • Press release  


Sitting Together And Reaching To Play  

  • The purpose of the multi-center clinical trial is to evaluate the efficacy of targeted sitting and reaching intervention to improve developmental outcomes in young children with motor impairments.  Collaborating research site include Duquesne University, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Delaware, University of Washington, and University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
  • Funded by a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences, Special Education Research in the Department of Education.
  • Currently closed to enrollment with results coming soon
  • Click here for videos and parent testimonials from the START_Play Study
  • For a list of publication and presentations for this study click here
  • NCT02593825    


Relation between Motor, Cognitive, and Language Skills during Infancy: An Extension of the START-Play Clinical Trial. Children’s Hospital Foundation

  • The purpose of this project is to investigate the relationship between motor, cognitive, and language skills during the development of sitting in typically developing infants.
  • Funded by a grant from the Children Hospital of Richmond Foundation to Emily Marcinowski, PhD with mentorship from Dr. Dusing


Tummy Time and Learn: Associative Learning in Prone

  • As part of her dissertation Tanya Tripathi’s demonstrated that infant 3-6 month old can associate their movement in prone with activation of a toy. PTJ Paper
  • She also documented the feasibility of using an automated play center utilizing operant conditioning to increase prone tolerance and improve motor outcomes.
  • Further research on this project will begin soon.

Does participating in a supervised fitness program extend the benefits of episodic physical therapy more than a home exercise program for adults with cerebral palsy?

  • The purpose of this project is to evaluate the efficacy of a physical fitness program for adults with Cerebral Palsy to maintain mobility and participation gained during an episode of physical therapy.
  • Funded by the Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy as a mentored research grant to Christina Withers, PT, PCS with mentorship from Dr. Dusing
  • Collaboration with Sheltering Arms Rehabilitation
  • Closed to enrollment, results coming soon

Impact of mother-child interaction on development during the first year of life: a systematic review

  • The purpose of this project was to expand our understanding of the role of parent child interaction in the development of typically developing and high risk infants.
  • Funded by Fundação de Amparo a Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP) Post Doctoral Scholarship Award to Nelci Adriana Cicuto Ferreira Rocha.


Training Grants / Projects

Project 3IP: Interdisciplinary and Intensive Intervention Preparation for Professionals Serving Young Children with Significant Disabilities (Funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education, U.S. Department of Education)

  • Project 3IP, is a collaboration between the School of Education, Physical Therapy Department, Pediatrics Department, Partnership for People with Disabilities, and community partners
  • The overarching goal of Project 3IP is to increase the quantity, quality and capacity of interdisciplinary early intervention personnel in order to improve the learning and developmental outcomes of infants and young children with significant disabilities.
  • Press release


Interdisciplinary Training for Inclusive Practices (ITIP

  • ITIP is an interdisciplinary program, drawing on the resources and expertise from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Departments of Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy, and Longwood University’s Communication Sciences and Disorder’s program.
  • ITIP is focused on preparing occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech and language pathology students to develop shared competencies in interdisciplinary practice and skills as change agents to build capacity of school personnel to improve outcomes for children with disabilities.
  • Three years of personnel preparation: during their interdisciplinary training year, their clinical year, and their mentorship year (first year of practice) in school settings.
  • Funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education, U.S. Department of Education
  • Press release


Virginia Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program (Funded by the federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau)

  • This leadership program is committed to the preparation of health professionals including graduate students, family members of children with disabilities, and practicing health professionals by enhancing interdisciplinary education in leadership and advocacy.
  • Disciplines represent: Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech Language Pathology, Genetic counseling, Nutrition, Pediatricians, Psychologists, Nursing, Special Education, Social workers, Audiology, family mentors, and self-advocacy specialists.


  • Sally Westcott McCoy, PT, PhD - University of Washington, Department of Physical Therapy
  • Regina Harbourne, PT, PHD, PCS - Duquesne University, Department of Physical Therapy
  • James Cole Galloway, PT, Ph.D. – University of Delaware, Department of Physical Therapy
  • Lisa Brown, RN, PhD  at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing
  • Karen Hendricks-Munoz, MD, MPH at Virginia Commonwealth University, Children’s Hospital of Richmond, Neonatology
  • Michele Lobo, PT, PhD at University of Delaware     
  • Christina Withers, PT, PCS – Sheltering Arm Rehabilitation
  • Profa. Dra. Nelci Adriana Cicuto Ferreira Rocha - Universidade Federal de São Carlos
  • Sandra Willett, PT, MS at University of Nebraska Medical Center
  • Amy Harper, MD Virginia Commonwealth University, Children’s Hospital of Richmond, Neurology
  • Greg Vorona, MD Virginia Commonwealth University, Children’s Hospital of Richmond, Radiology
  • James Bovaird, PhD – University of Nebraska Lincoln. College of Education and Human Sciences Educational Psychology
  • Natalie Koziol, Ph.D. – University of Nebraska Lincoln - Nebraska Center For Research On Children, Youth, Families And Schools
  • Karen Adolph – New York University 


Former Graduate Students and Post-doctoral Fellows


Current Students and Staff

Becky Molinini, DPT - PhD student REMS Program

B.A. Physical Education and Health, Concentration: Exercise Science, University of North Carolina a Wilmington, 2006

DPT, Doctor Physical Therapy, University of South Carolina, 2010

Becky has been working with children as a Physical Therapist in the Early Intervention setting for the past 8 years. She began working on her PhD in May 2018 with the long term goal of teaching and performing research on a physical therapy faculty after graduating. Her research interests focus on the relationship between a therapist and both the parent and child as well as the provision of direct physical therapy services in an early intervention setting. Her role in the Motor Development Lab is to assist with data collection on START-Play, data coding of the Early Problem Solving Indicator (EPSI) and to be an interventionist on SPEEDI2. 

Ketaki Inamdar, MS -- PhD student REMS Program

MS Physical therapy (Neurosciences with 'Pediatrics' elective), Manipal University, India, 2016

BS Physical therapy, KLE University, India, 2014

Ketaki practiced as a physical therapist in India for 2 years before joining the Motor Development Lab to work on her PhD. Ketaki’s research interests include examining the effectiveness of functional/task-specific training for postural control in children with or at risk for neurodevelopmental disabilities and its influence on the global child development. She is also interested in studying the role of parental participation in developing and administrating home-programs for postural control improvement. She currently assists with data collection and behavioral coding for the START-Play and SPEEDI2 Studies.

Daniel Russell, B.S. -- Laboratory and Research Technician

B.S. Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University (2018)

Daniel began working in the Motor Development Lab in Summer 2018. His role in the lab is to serve as a secondary assessor in play-based assessment of infants and data coding of the Early Problem Solving Indicator (EPSI) as well as Parent-Child Interaction (PCI). Research interests include communication disorders and child development.  

Sonia Khurana, Ph.D. -- Post Doctoral Fellow

Ph.D. Physical Therapy, Manipal University, India, 2017

M.S. Physical Therapy, (Neurosciences with elective as Pediatrics), Manipal University, India, 2010

B.S. Physical Therapy, Lyallpur Khalsa College, India, 2008

Sonia Khurana initially joined the Motor Development Lab as a VCU Global Visiting Scholar in 2017 with a focus on completing a systematic review on the effect of neonatal Physical Therapy on development of preterm infants. Her research interest includes Neonatal Physical Therapy assessment and intervention with special focus on motor, cognitive and language development. She has a special interest in evaluation of the developmental outcomes and spontaneous movement repertoire of typically developing and preterm infants. She is now a post-doctoral fellow on SPEEDI2 and the SPEEDI_BrainBehavior Study.

Emily Marcinowski, Ph.D. -- Postdoctoral Fellow

Ph.D. Developmental Psychology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2015

M.A. Developmental Psychology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2013

B.A. Experimental Psychology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2008

Emily began working as a postdoctoral fellow in the Motor Development Lab in 2015.  Her research interests include the role of motor asymmetries and skill on the development of play, cognition, and language across early childhood.  She also has an interest in applying advanced statistical methods to understand development and discovering unique ways to describe temporal change.  Emily is an assessor on the START-Play clinical trial.  She is also the Co-Principal Investigator on the Children’s Hospital of Richmond Research Fund Grant (entitled: “Relationship between motor, cognitive and language skills in typically developing infants: An extension of the START-Play clinical trial”) and the Principal Investigator for VCU’s Postdoctoral Career Development Fund (entitled “How does parent-child interaction affect the development of object construction during infancy?”).

Audrey E Kane, Ph.D., OTR/L -- Laboratory and Research Technician

Ph.D., Health Related Sciences, Virginia Commonwealth University (2013)

M.S., Occupational Therapy, Virginia Commonwealth University (1991)

B.A., Biology, Hendrix College (1987)

Audrey joined the Motor Development Lab research team in 2016.  She also is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Her research interests include parent-child interactions and how interactions change as a children gain new skills. Audrey assesses intervention fidelity and parent child interactions for START-Play study and will be a blinded assessor for SPEEDI2.

Meagan Miller, CRCC

She is certified as a research coordinator through ACRP (The Association of Clinical Research Professionals) and joined the Motor Development Lab in 2018.  Meagan has worked as a clinical research coordinator since 2009 including on multiple studies in the Department of Pediatrics and the Department of Physical Therapy at VCU.  Meagan serves as the study coordinator for SPEEDI2 and SPEEDI_BrainBehavior

Shaaron Brown, PT, DPT – Research Physical Therapist

Shaaron is a board certified pediatric physical therapist with 20+ years of experience working with infants and families.  She has as experience with a variety of settings including the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, follow up clinics, acute care pediatrics.  She has worked on 2 previous SPEEDI studies and the START-Play study.  Shaaron serves as an interventionist on the SPEEDI2 trial. 

 Jennifer Pulisic, PT

Jenn is an experience pediatric physical therapist who work at VCUHealth and in a private practice treating infants.  She has extensive experience with infants in and post neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) care.  Jenn will serve as an intervention PT in the SPEEDI2 Trial. 

 Megan Evans B.S. - Research Assistant

 B.S. Neuroscience, Christopher Newport University (2019)

Megan began working in the Motor Development Lab Summer of 2019 as one of two new research assistants. Her role in the lab is to serve as a secondary assessor in play-based assessment of infants and data coding of Parent-Child Interaction (PCI) for SPEEDI. Her research interests include movement disorders and child development.

Caitlin Hurst B.S. - Research Assistant

B.S. Brain and Behavioral Science, Purdue University (2019)


Caitlin began working in the Motor Development Lab Summer of 2019 as the second research assistant. Her role in the lab is to serve as secondary assessor in play-based assessments of infants and data coding of Parent-Child Interaction (PCI). Her primary research interest is neurodevelopment disorders.


Stacey Dusing’s PubMed Publication List(click here)

Media and Video Abstract Links:

  • Supporting Play Exploration and Early Developmental Intervention Multi-site clinical trial. → (click here)   
  • Play & Learning Across a Year (PLAY). → (click here
  • Physical therapy program offers help for infants with delayed skills → (click here)
  • Interdisciplinary Training for Inclusive Practices Training Grant for PT/OT/ SLP students interested in School Based Services (click here)
  • Supporting Play Exploration and Early Development Intervention From NICU to Home: A Feasibility Study → (click here)
  • START_ Play Videos → (click here)
  • Project 3IP: Interdisciplinary and Intensive Intervention Preparation for Professionals Serving Young Children with Significant Disabilities  (click here)
  • Children’s Hospital of Richmond Go-Baby-Go (click here)
  • Sitting Together and Reaching To - Play featured by the Institute for Education Science, the research funding source → (click here)

Lab director

Mary Snyder Shall

This complex of laboratories was established to provide research at various stages ranging from basic animal experiments to application to human studies. The mission of the Sensorimotor Plasticity Lab is to investigate the impact of peripheral changes on the central nervous systems (CNS) or the effect of a loss of a sensory system such as the vestibular receptors on muscle development.  We also are investigating the interaction of the various sensory and motor cortices and how function is impacted by mild head injury.


  • -80 degree freezer for storing and Microm HM550 cryostat for sectioning human or animal neurologic or muscle tissue for immunohistological analysis.
  • Microcentrifuge and Napco Centrifuge 2028R
  • Tecan Magellan Microplate Reader
  • BioRad Protein Electrophoresis Chamber
  • Nikon Microphot Microscope and Qimaging Digitizing camera
  • Computers with software for digital analysis of muscle fiber cross sections and proportions of myosin heavy chains.
  • HTC VIVE Virtual Reality System and 360 degree camera

Current Projects

  1. Does Follistatin effectively Augment Skeletal Muscle Fiber Recovery Following Moderate Periods of Denervation?
  2. Neuroplasticity viewed through dynamic functional positron emission tomography (fPET) imaging

The objective of the study is to determine potential augmenting effects of follistatin (FS) on strength, mass, and muscle fiber composition recovery of re-innervated rat muscle following moderate and long periods of denervation. Preliminary data shows that treatment with FS protein induces muscle fiber diameter hypertrophy, particularly those expressing type IIa and IIb myosin heavy chain isoforms.  This study is supported by the DOD and inspired by soldiers who have suffered peripheral nerve injuries on the battlefield that could not be repaired until they returned home.

Our interdisciplinary team includes Mary Shall, PT, PhD, with expertise in neuroplasticity as it affects changes in motor development and muscle fiber and function; a medieval art historian Janet Snyder, MA, PhD, with expertise in sculpture as a means of communication; and neuroscientist Julie Brefczynski-Lewis, PhD, of the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute at WVU, who has led the development of a lightweight, wearable PET imager and novel brain imaging techniques that permit unprecedented temporal resolution of task-related glucose (F18-FDG) metabolism while the subject is upright.  Our project is exploring how aspects of two- and three-dimensional images are processed in different regions of the brain. Determining the mechanisms of functional visual spatial processing in a normal brain using the PET imager and Virtual Reality opens the possibility of determining and then analyzing what part of the brain is working (or not) in a patient who has suffered a concussion. This understanding may be crucial to the recovery of these patients as we understand and facilitate their neuroplastic recovery, with targeted therapies based on neuroscience.

Lab Space 

Electroneurophysiology laboratory

This lab features a specialized surgical table designed to hold anesthetized animals in a stereotaxic frame during acute experiments for in vivo stimulation of neurons at the nucleus or nerve and measuring the contractile characteristics of spinal-nerve-innervated muscles such as the soleus or triceps muscles or cranial-nerve-innervated muscles such as tongue or extraocular muscles. The 400-pound granite tabletop can be “floated” to minimize the effect of floor vibration when measuring the forces of single motor units. Surgical lighting is available to optimize visualization. Physiologic data from strain gauge and differential amplifiers table is converted to digital media and recorded using “PowerLab” software.

Immunohistology laboratory

In the histology laboratory, muscle, bone or connective tissue are collected from animals and stored in a -70-degree freezer. Tissue may be sectioned using the cryotome for immunohistological analysis or dehydrated for the extraction of proteins such as myosin-heavy chains for processing with gel electrophoresis to determine the exact proportions of muscle-fiber types. The laboratory is outfitted with an exhaust hood, autoclave, cabinets, refrigerator, centrifuges, freezers and wet lab counters and sinks.

Human sensorimotor development laboratory

Dr. Dusing, Dr. Pidcoe, and Dr. Shall collaborate on a study of children with and without hearing deficits. We are specifically testing the vestibular system using vestibular electromyogenic potentials (VEMP). The VEMP computer is portable and can be transported to the subjects’ homes. We can test developmental milestones using pediatric motor skill evaluation tools (such as the Movement ABC) in Dr. Dusing’s motor development lab. Dr. Pidcoe’s lab is outfitted with a motion analysis system for evaluation of eye movements during balancing activities and development of posture and balance strategies.

Yoga as part of integrative Medicine Laboratory
We teach restorative yoga postures and breathing exercises during the treatment of patients with lung cancer. Outcome measures include spirometry and the FACT-L which measures the health related quality of life with particular emphasis on the lung.

There are multiple labs on site at Virginia Commonwealth University, where physical therapy faculty and students conduct research across a wide spectrum of clinically relevant topics.

In addition departmental faculty engage in clinical research and collect data at various clinical sites in the greater Richmond area as well as various sites across the U.S.