Funder: Department of Defense

Principal Investigator: Zina Trost, Ph.D.

Project Period: 10/1/20 to 9/30/24

Funding Amount: $3.7 million


Zina Trost

Dr. Zina Trost

The Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program recently awarded $3.7 million to Zina Trost, Ph.D., of VCU under its Spinal Cord Injury Research portfolio. Dr. Trost has recently joined the VCU Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation as part of the Center for Rehabilitation Sciences and Engineering (CERSE). The funded multisite, international clinical trial will examine the impact of an immersive virtual reality (VR) walking intervention on chronic neuropathic pain among paraplegic individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI). The trial will also examine brain mechanisms underpinning effects of the intervention.

Chronic neuropathic pain can be a debilitating secondary condition for persons with SCI and effective pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments remain elusive.

“We hope to offer a readily accessible tool to improve the lives of individuals with chronic neuropathic pain,” Dr. Trost said.

The project brings together international experts in basic and clinical science for a rigorous trial to examine the efficacy and mechanisms of an advanced interactive virtual reality walking intervention, the VRWalk. The VRWalk intervention builds upon visual feedback therapies that have shown promise in phantom limb and SCI pain. The intervention was developed in collaboration with individuals with SCI and has been associated with prospective reductions in pain experience. Dr. Trost will be leading an interdisciplinary team of researchers with sites at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. The trial will be conducted in individual’s homes using a portable self-administered VR platform.

Dr. Trost is a clinical health psychologist and associate professor in the VCU Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, where she leads an innovative research program focusing on adapting virtual reality and gaming technologies to address pain and rehabilitation. Her work has received national and international research support, including funding from the American Pain Society, International Association for the Study of Pain, National Institutes of Health, Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, and Department of Defense. Dr. Trost holds a B.A. in Psychology from Fordham University and Ph.D. in Clinical Health Psychology from Ohio University. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in pain research at McGill University.