Annual Report FY 2021

More than 1 billion people, including 61 million (1 in 4) U.S. adults, are estimated to live with a disability

Disability is a complex interaction between a person, their environment, and society, that hinders people in their day to day lives.

Source: CDC, WHO

CASBBI's vision is to enable all people to fully participate in needed and desired life roles and activities


We work across disciplinary boundaries with community stakeholders and industry partners to develop viable solutions to the complex challenges related to disability

CASBBI's research is organized around the 4 themes shown above.

Goal 1: Build transdisciplinary research capacity


  • Engaged faculty and students from 19 departments
  • Established brain-body guild learning community, methods, grants, and ethics workshops
  • Funded 5 pilot projects related to substance abuse, student mental health, and symptom monitoring in chronic health conditions

Goal 2: Build technology translation capacity


  • Developing a novel prosthetic control system for individuals with limb loss (NIBIB Bioengineering Research Partnership)
  • Creating virtual reality tools to enhance evidence-based treatment of substance use disorders (NIDA STTR)
  • Building an Integrated Multi-Sensor Life Detection System for search and rescue operations (AFRL Phase I/II SBIR)

Goal 3: Build transdisciplinary training capacity


  • Implemented NSF-funded Research Traineeship (NRT) program focused on community-engaged STEM
  • 11 graduate students from 6 departments completed their traineeship in May 2021. 82% are from groups under-represented in STEM.
  • Significant increase in convergence learning skills from baseline to post-NRT evaluation
  • Disseminated results publicly at NRT Retreat in May 2021

Research Highlights

No-contact heart rate and respiration measurements

CASBBI PI Nathalia Peixoto (Electrical & Computer Engineering) and doctoral student Hossein Ghaffari Nik of Rhein Tech Laboratories, Inc. are developing new technology to remotely detect physiological signals such as heart rate, respiration, and movement. They are using a rotary transmitter-receiver radar system to achieve multiple target detection and localization in 3D. This breakthrough technology has the potential to save lives in search and rescue operations and has future applications in health recovery tracking. This work is currently funded by the Air Force Research Labs (Phase II SBIR).

Recovery tools for Substance Use Disorder

CASBBI faculty Holly Matto (Social Work), Nathalia Peixoto (Electrical & Computer Engineering), and Padhu Seshaiyer (Mathematics) are collaborating with Brightline Interactive to build a novel recovery system to prevent relapse in substance use disorder. They are using virtual reality technology to simulate interactions with personalized drug triggers and recovery cues and using physiological sensors, such as a smartwatch, to create personalized profiles of risk and recovery. These profiles will be integrated with the team's mobile application (in development) to provide real-time recovery support. This work is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Path Foundation, and Mason's College of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Padhu Seshaiyer (Mathematics), graduate student Bryce Dunn (Electrical and Computer Engineering) and Rudra Nagalia (visiting undergraduate from Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani) testing the combined virtual reality and physiological monitoring system. Photo credits: Nathalia Peixoto.

Modeling movement and time

Martin Wiener (Psychology) and Wilsaan Joiner (Bioengineering, UC Davis) are investigating how movements shape the perception of time. Wiener, an expert in timing and time perception, and Joiner, an expert in motor control theory, are challenging the traditional view that movements are a nuisance in models of timing. In recent experimental work published in eLife, they found that we are more precise in our time estimates when moving. They're guiding the field forward, proposing that movement is actually the most precise way of measuring timing. This work has implications for conditions such as ADHD and Parkinson's Disease and is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Keri Gladhill, doctoral student in psychology, is an NSF-funded CASBBI NRT fellow and one of the first authors on the recent Trends in Cognitive Science article. Photo courtesy of Keri Gladhill.

Background image by Katrina Nguyen, selected as cover image for TICS November 2021 issue.

Sonomyography: A new paradigm for prosthetic control

Currently-available prosthetics only enable users to perform a limited range of tasks. CASBBI faculty Siddhartha Sikdar (Bioengineering) and Parag Chitnis (Bioengineering) are collaborating with Infinite Biomedical Technologies, Hanger Clinic, and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to create a more intuitive prosthetic control system using ultrasound imaging technology. They have developed a novel miniaturized low-power wearable system that has more dexterous control and requires less training to use. This work is funded by the National Institutes of Health and Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs.

Electrical and Computer Engineering doctoral student Afsana Rima and Research Assistant Ahmed Bashatah test the wearable ultrasound system. Photo courtesy of CASBBI.

Using DNA nanotechnology to advance deep-brain imaging

Transmission of voltage spikes plays a major role in cell-to-cell communication in the brain. This communication is disrupted in some neurodegenerative diseases. Current methods to image spiking activity only allow for a microscopic field-of-view, limited depth, and are often invasive. CASBBI faculty Parag Chitnis (Bioengineering) and Rob Cressman (Physics), along with colleague Remi Veneziano (Bioengineering) are developing DNA-based nanoparticles that can be precisely combined with an FDA-approved dye to non-invasively image spiking activity in a living brain-on-chip model. This work is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Bioengineering doctoral student Giovanni Giammanco (left) and Dr. Parag Chitnis (right) shown in background.

Parenting-focused mindfulness intervention to prevent adolescent substance abuse

Research has demonstrated that parent stress predicts adolescent substance use. CASBBI faculty Tara Chaplin, Sarah Fischer, and Jim Thompson (Psychology) are testing whether a parenting-focused mindfulness intervention can prevent adolescent substance abuse by reducing parent stress and stress reactivity and improving parenting behavior. This is the first randomized control trial of a stand-alone mindfulness intervention and its neurobiological mechanisms. This work is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program

NRT Program Impact

  • 25 trainees from bioengineering (2), clinical psychology (4), cognitive and behavioral neuroscience (3), computer science (6), nursing, special education, social work (3), neuroscience, computational biology, computational data sciences, information science and technology, and environmental science and policy
  • 2020-2021 cohort's self-reported convergent research, community engagement, professional and communication skills significantly increased from baseline to post-NRT.
  • 7 ongoing team community-engaged design projects in the areas of substance abuse, student mental health, symptom monitoring for chronic health conditions, accessibility, re-entry following incarceration
As someone with NO prior experience working with computer scientists, engineers, or mathematicians, the NRT expanded my view about how to solve complex problems… Going forward in my career, I will seek out collaborators from other disciplines to design research projects.
Through the NRT I learned the importance of the community perspective…[The community members] really were the experts, and they could come up with ideas and solutions that were more relevant [than] what our team could develop from the outside looking in…I will take that lesson with me…
I think the ability to communicate to broad audiences outside my disciplinary field is where I gained the most personal experience and growth
Learn more about the NRT faculty here. Learn more about the NRT trainees here.
View the NRT events calendar here.
In preparation for PROV 801/802 (Community-engaged Interdisciplinary Methods), students receive training in design thinking, team science, communication, disability rights and advocacy, ethics, and relationship building with community stakeholders during the summer boot camp.
Community-engaged design projects. Trainees work in teams with community partners to formulate a research question and collaborative solution. They collect preliminary data, develop peer-reviewed research proposals, and disseminate their findings.

2020-2021 Community-Engaged Projects

Students with disabilities and COVID-19: Parents' perspective

Trainees Lily Spinelli (Social Work), Fahim Faisal (Computer Science), Jillian Nelson (Clinical Psychology), and Lindsay Owen (Special Education) collaborated with stakeholders from the Fairfax Special Education PTA, FREDLA, Georgetown, and Total Family Care Coalition to investigate how virtual schooling impacted students with disabilities and their families in the D.C. area. They found that parent stress, anxiety, and depression were associated with student emotional and behavioral problems, student social activity was associated with fewer emotional and behavioral concerns, and that parents provide an often-overlooked perspective.

IMPACT-PD: Improving messaging between patients and their care team in Parkinson's Disease

Trainees Keri Gladhill (Psychology), Shriniwas Patwardhan (Bioengineering), and Lindsay Shaffer (Psychology) found that though there are currently 110 apps available for monitoring symptoms in patients with Parkinson’s Disease (PWP), there is still a need for a reliable method to remotely track symptoms. The team developed a user needs survey in collaboration with faculty and stakeholders including caregivers, neurologists, and representatives from PD Avengers and the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

Integrating patient input into every aspect of research and development is so necessary for success. -Dr. Soania Mathur, Physician, PWP, PD Advocate

RISE-OUT: Risks and socio-ecological factors associated with opioid use treatment

NRT trainees Angeela Acharya (Computer Science), Rebecca Bates (Nursing), Stefanie Gonçalves (Clinical Psychology), and Alyssa Izquierdo (Clinical Psychology) collaborated with academics, peer recovery coaches, opioid treatment providers, and individuals in recovery from opioid use disorder to create a survey to identify treatment-related opioid risk factors. The team received CASBBI Rapid Award funding in July 2021 to expand their data collection.

Community Engagement Highlights

  • NRT trainees conducted 50+ interviews with individuals with disabilities, caregivers, advocates, clinicians, and representatives from other stakeholder groups to formulate and refine research questions.
  • Disseminated the NRT program's activities, research projects and preliminary results and hosted a community partner panel at our first NRT retreat in May 2021. Fifty-seven people attended, including 15 external stakeholders representing 8 organizations.
  • Launched a Community-Engaged Proposal Portal in June 2021 in response to community feedback from the NRT Retreat.
  • NRT co-PI Nathalia Peixoto (Electrical and Computer Engineering) was recognized for her work mentoring students from underrepresented groups in STEM. Read the article.
  • NRT co-PI Padhu Seshaiyer was named to the new Virginia STEM Education Advisory Board, received the Earle C. Williams Presidential Medal for Faculty Excellence in Social Impact, and received funding for 5 new projects focused on STEM education and outreach.
Thank you to the organizations that participated in the NRT Program, some of which are shown here.


Thank you to our sponsors, partners, trainees, faculty, and the Mason community

External Partners

Photo Credits

  • Annual report cover: Evan Cantwell/Mason Creative Services (source)
  • Vision statement: Still from NSF CASBBI research video (link)
  • Research Highlight/No contact heart rate and respiration: Background image, still from Rhein Tech's IMLDS video (link)
  • Research Highlight/Recovery tools: Background and inset image: Nathalia Peixoto
  • Research Highlight/Movement and time: Background: Katrina Nguyen, Inset: Courtesy of Keri Gladhill
  • Research Highlight/Sonomyography: Background: Evan Cantwell/Mason Creative Services (source), Inset: Courtesy of CASBBI
  • Research Highlight/DNA nanotechnology: Background: Ron Aira/Mason Creative Services (source)
  • Research Highlight/Parenting: Background: Evan Cantwell/Creative Services (source)
  • PROV801/802: Photos courtesy of CASBBI


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