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VCU part of national $3.4 million award for research on infants with delayed skills

Stacey Dusing, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, works with Miles Mrozinski at home with his parents, Whitney and Brent Mrozinski. Miles has been part of the START-Play Program since April.
Stacey Dusing, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, works with Miles Mrozinski at home with his parents, Whitney and Brent Mrozinski. Miles has been part of the START-Play Program since April.

Thanks to a $3.4 million award from the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, a team of researchers that includes Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Physical Therapy faculty has begun work on an initiative to rehabilitate infants with motor skill delays.

The START-Play program is one of the largest national clinical trials of its kind. The project’s purpose is to evaluate the effectiveness of a fully developed intervention that targets sitting, reaching and motor-based problem-solving in infancy. VCU is one of four intervention sites across the United States.

Stacey Dusing, Ph.D., associate professor in the VCU Department of Physical Therapy in the School of Allied Health Professions, is the primary investigator on the project.Emily Marcinowski, Ph.D., is a VCU postdoctoral fellow in charge of recruitment and assessment. The study will take place over four years, Dusing said, and will include students from the Department of Physical Therapy, the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences and the interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Rehabilitation and Movement Science.

“We are excited to be part of this effort because the research we’re conducting will contribute to research going on around the world on this topic,” Dusing said. “One goal of the study is to advance the motor and cognitive skills of enrolled children in order to better prepare them to learn in preschool and beyond.”

Patients, who are recruited from the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU medical clinics and therapy departments and the community, were typically born prematurely or had brain injuries close to the time of birth. During the 12-week intervention, children in the intervention group receive a specialized therapy based on their ability to perform childlike skills such as crawling and reaching. Sessions take place in a family’s home and parents are encouraged to do exercises with their children between START-Play sessions. Additionally, five assessment visits are scheduled over the course of one year. The children range in age from 7 months to 16 months.  

“Typical therapy services do not focus on the loss of opportunity and learning skills early in development,” Dusing said. “That is why this type of intensive therapy, and the funding to do it, is so important.”

Parents interested in enrolling their children in START-Play can visit start-play.unl.edu/#contact or call START-Play staff in the Motor Development Lab at VCU at 804-628-5037.

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 225 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Seventy-nine of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. The VCU Health brand represents the health sciences schools of VCU, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center and Level I trauma center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, MCV Physicians and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.