Pioneering Rehabilitation

Kathleen M. Friel, Ph.D.

Director, Clinical Laboratory for Early Brain Injury Recovery

Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience, Weill Cornell Medical College


(914) 368-3116

Research Focus

Dr. Friel’s work at the Burke-Cornell Medical Research Institute aims to improve hand function in children with cerebral palsy (CP).  Her research focuses on the importance of motor activity in neurorehabilitation.  Her laboratory uses sophisticated techniques to non-invasively study the anatomy and function of the brain and spinal cord.  Her laboratory studies how brain structure and function change as children receive hand rehabilitative training.  By better understanding brain structure and function in children with CP, it is hoped that scientists will best be able to devise new therapies for these children.  Currently, her laboratory is also developing therapies for CP that utilize noninvasive brain stimulation. 

Using noninvasive brain stimulation, Dr. Friel and her colleagues are able to identify the parts of the brain that control hand movements.  This image demonstrates the effects of hand rehabilitative training on the part of the brain that controls movement of the impaired hand in a child with hemiplegic cerebral palsy.  After training (right), the size and strength of the part of the brain controlling the impaired hand is larger than before training (left).

The Burke-Cornell Early Brain Injury Recovery Program

This clinic is the first effort to actively pursue translation of basic science discoveries at the Burke Medical Research Institute into clinical trials at the Pediatric Neurology Department at Weill-Cornell Medical College.

The clinic will provide high-quality medical treatment for paralysis, vision loss and other neurological impairments in brain-injured children. Those who qualify will be enrolled in clinical trials to test newer treatment methods, such as high intensity training programs and non-invasive brain stimulation. Merging clinical care and scientific research will provide patients with access to promising treatments and assessment of long-term results.

For more information, visit the Eary Brain Injury Recovery Program page and the Burke-Blythedale Hemiplegia Center page


Dr. Friel received her B.A. in Biology at Rice University, an M.S. in Neuroscience at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston, and a Ph.D. in Neurophysiology from the University of Kansas Medical Center.  She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University Medical Center.  She also received a M.S. in Biostatistics from Columbia University, with a focus on patient-oriented research.  Her research focuses on the importance of motor activity in neurorehabilitation. 

Selected Publications

Friel K.M., Kuo H-C, Carmel JB, Rowny S, Gordon AM. (2014) Improvements in hand function after intensive training are not associated with corticospinal tract integrity in children with hemiplegic cerebral palsy.  Experimental Brain Research, In press.

Brandão MB, Ferre C, Kuo HC, Rameckers EA, Bleyenheuft Y, Hung YC, Friel K, Gordon AM.  (2014)  Comparison of Structured Skill and Unstructured Practice During Intensive Bimanual Training in Children With Unilateral Spastic Cerebral Palsy.  Neurorehab Neural Repair, doi:10.1177/1545968313516871.

Friel KM, Chakrabarty S, Martin JH.  (2013) Pathophysiological mechanisms of impaired limb use and repair strategies for motor systems after unilateral injury of the developing brain.  Dev Med Child Neurol, 55 Suppl 4:27-31.

Friel K.M., Chakrabarty S, Kuo H-C, Martin JM.  (2012) Using motor behavior during an early critical period to restore skilled limb movement after damage to the corticospinal system during development.  Journal of Neuroscience, 32:9265-76.  

Gordon A.M., Hung Y-C, Brandao M., Ferre C.L., Kuo H-C, Friel K.M., Petra E., Chinnan A., Charles J.R. (2011) Bimanual Training and Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy in Children with Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy: A Randomized Trial. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair, 25:692-702.

Martin J.H. Chakrabarty S., Friel K.M.  (2011) Harnessing activity-dependent plasticity to repair the damaged corticospinal tract in an animal model of cerebral palsy.  Dev Med Child Neurol, 53 Suppl 4:9-13.

Gordon, AM, Friel, K.M. (2009) Intensive training of upper extremity function in children with cerebral palsy. In: J. Hermsdoerfer and DA Nowak (Eds) Sensorimotor Control of Grasping: Physiology and Pathophysiology, pp. 438-468.  Cambridge University Press.

Friel K.M., Drew T., Martin J.H.  (2007) Differential activity-dependent development of corticospinal control of movement and final limb position during visually-guided locomotion.  Journal of Neurophysiology, 97:3396-3406.

Friel K.M., Martin J.H.  (2007) Bilateral activity-dependent interactions in the developing corticospinal system.  Journal of Neuroscience, 27:11083-11090.

Friel K.M., Drew T., Martin J.H.  (2007) Differential activity-dependent development of corticospinal control of movement and final limb position during visually-guided locomotion.  Journal of Neurophysiology, 97:3396-3406.


Current Lab Members:

Disha Gupta, Ph.D. —  Postdoctoral Fellow

Jason Fuller, Ph.D. —  Consultant

Hsing-Ching (Cherie) Kuo —  Graduate Student

Ana Smorenburg, Ph.D —  Postdoctoral Fellow


Yannick Bleyenheuft, Ph.D. — Université Catholique de Louvain

Jason B. Carmel, M.D., Ph.D. — Burke Medical Researh Institute

Dylan J. Edwards, Ph.D. — Burke Medical Research Institute

Andrew M. Gordon, Ph.D. — Teachers College of Columbia University

John H. Martin, Ph.D. — City College of New York

Current Projects

1) Using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to study motor system plasticity after intensive hand training in children with unilateral cerebral palsy.  We use single-pulse TMS to determine which parts of the brain control hand movement, and how these regions change after an intensive hand training rehabilitation program. 

2) Using magnetic resonance imaging to study brain pathways involved in controlling movement and sensation in children with CP.

3) Examining the safety and efficacy of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) as a therapy for children with CP.


The Thomas and Agnes Carvel Foundation
Using tDCS to improve motor function in children with cerebral palsy
Dates of project: 2013-2015

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health
K01 NS 062116
Title: Mechanisms of Cerebral Palsy Recovery Induced by Balancing Motor Cortex Activity
Dates of project: 2009-2014

National Institute of Child Health and Development, National Institutes of Health 
R03 HD 07351
Title: Impact of motor connectivity on efficacy of hand therapy in congenital hemiplegia
Dates of project: 2013-2014

News and Media


An article and video in the Journal News highlights how the Early Brain Recovery Program is helping children with brain injury improve hand strength and coordination.

Dr. Friel was a finalist for the 2013 Gayle G. Arnold Award for her research using transcranial magnetic stimulation to study motor cortex plasticity associated with cerebral palsy rehabilitation.


Dr. Friel was awarded the 2012 Gayle G. Arnold Award from the American Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine.  The Arnold Award is the most prestigious award of the academy, and was given to Dr. Friel to recognize her research in an animal model of cerebral palsy.