FPTR Scholarship Recipient to Use Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation in Infants With Stroke

Foundation for Physical Therapy Research Scholarship Recipient, Ellen Sutter, PT, DPT, explores brain development in infants who have experienced a stroke.

The Foundation for Physical Therapy Research (FPTR) awards funding based on a rigorous peer-review process.  Each year, the Patricia Leahy Award – a Promotion of Doctoral Studies I scholarship in postprofessional studies within neurology – is awarded thanks to the support of the Academy of Neurologic Physical Therapy and the Foundation’s Neurology Endowment Fund. This year, the 2020 PODS I Scholarship was awarded to Ellen Sutter, PT, DPT, from the University of Minnesota’s Rehabilitation Science Graduate Program.

Sutter will explore how non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) can be used to assess brain development in infants with stroke. This research will help clinicians determine optimal time for rehabilitation interventions. The goal is to make developmental gains for infants at risk for cerebral palsy (CP).

“I am honored to be the recipient of this award,” said Sutter. “FPTR is invaluable in supporting and disseminating rehabilitation research to the physical therapy community and beyond. I am honored to be supported by this dedicated community of clinicians and scientists, from whom I will continue to learn and draw inspiration throughout my career.”

Perinatal stroke is a leading cause of cerebral palsy among infants. While this can be diagnosed early, there is still much to learn. “Our goal as physical therapists is to optimize movement; to do that, we must optimize the interventions we use and the knowledge base supporting them,” said Sutter. “There is much work to do to both increase the knowledge base about neurological development in the presence of an early brain injury, as well as to optimize early interventions delivered.”

Sutter is pursuing a joint DPT/PhD program and completed her DPT degree in May 2020, amid the challenges created by COVID-19. She currently works with FPTR alum, Bernadette Gillick, PT, MSPT, PhD, in the Gillick Pediatric Research Lab. However, several projects requiring in-person assessments have been either put on hold or transitioned to video or remote assessments due to COVID-19. Sutter is currently in the process of adjusting her infant study to safely navigate research gathering. Despite the obstacles, Sutter is among many who believe this will also open more possibilities.

“We anticipate these explorations into remote studies may have the additional bonus of accessing families in rural areas and from groups traditionally underrepresented in research,” said Sutter. “I am encouraged by the rehabilitation research community’s responsiveness to COVID-19, particularly as related to children with disabilities and their families, which indicates to me the importance and global applicability of our work.”

Patricia Leahy was an active member of the American Physical Therapy Association and the Neurology Section. Leahy was one of the first three physical therapists to receive specialist certification in neurology.

Select Foundation Grants and Scholarships Awarded



  • Mattlage AE, Sutter EN, Bland MD, et al. Dose of remote limb ischemic conditioning for enhancing learning in healthy young adults. Exp Brain Res. 2019.

  • Sutter EN, Mattlage AE, Bland MD, et al. Remote Limb Ischemic Conditioning and Motor Learning: Evaluation of Factors Influencing Response in Older Adults. Transl Stroke Res. 2018.

  • Sutter EN, Seidler KJ, Duncan RP, Earhart GM, McNeely ME. Low to moderate relationships between gait and postural responses in Parkinson disease. J Rehabil Med. 2017;49(6):505-511.