Pioneering Rehabilitation

David Putrino, Ph.D., P.T.

Director, Telemedicine and Virtual Rehabilitation

Assistant Professor, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine 

Weill Cornell Medical College 


(914) 368-3183

Research Focus

Our major research focus is to design, develop, and deploy a comprehensive telemedicine service for Burke. Telemedicine is an emerging approach to healthcare that allows therapists, assisted by innovative technology, to deliver engaging and high-intensity therapy in the home at low cost to the patient. This has the potential to significantly impact the quality-of-life of patients who have been previously unable to readily access outpatient services. We use state-of-the-art motion capture technology that allows therapists to monitor the quality and quantity of rehabilitation that is being performed at home and in the clinic in unprecedented detail. Using this information allows us to engage in novel research to explore the mechanisms of recovery in a variety of conditions, and design accurate methods for assessing disease severity, progression and recovery that have not been previously available to patients anywhere. This is an exciting new field of research, but at all times, our main goal remains the same: to provide our patients with the highest standard of care possible. 


I am a Physical Therapist with a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. I graduated as a Physical Therapist from Curtin University of Technology with First Class Honors in 2004, and was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Western Australia in 2008 for my work studying the neural control of reaching under the supervision of Soumya Ghosh. Clinically, I have worked with patients in hospitals and private practices in the US, UK, and Australia. As a neuroscientist, I have held academic positions studying computational neuroscience at Harvard Medical School and MIT with Emery Brown, and performing motor control and brain machine interface research at NYU with Esther Gardner and Bijan Pesaran. 

I consider teaching to be an essential part of any faculty position. In Perth, Western Australia, I have held teaching faculty positions at Curtin University of Technology and Edith Cowan University, and was responsible for teaching neuroanatomy and neuropathology to hundreds of students over several years, as well as assisting in course development. In New York, I served for two academic semesters as a teaching assistant for Neuroanatomy classes at the NYU School of Medicine, where I taught neuroanatomy and clinical neuroscience to first year medical students and neuroscience graduate students.  

However, I also believe that scientists have a responsibility to assist in the education of their immediate community in order to engage the public in science and technology research and explain why this is important on a fundamental level. As such, I am a co-founder of StreetSmart Science – a not-for-profit organization that works to connect scientist-mentors with local high schools in order to encourage science enrichment in the city of New York. We are currently working with 3 inner-city high schools in Harlem and the Bronx.

I am also a volunteer at Not Impossible Labs, where I am a member of the “Project Daniel” and “BrainWriter” teams. Also on behalf of Not Impossible, I’m currently involved in designing the International Digital Revolution Exhibit for the BrainWriter's debut at the Barbican Museum of London in July 2014.


Journal Articles

Putrino D, Wong YT, Weiss A, Pesaran B (2014) A training platform for many-dimensional prosthetic devices using a virtual reality environment. J Neurosci Methods pii: S0165-0270(14)00098-3. [Epub ahead of print]

Johnson L, Putrino D, James I, Rodrigues J, Stell R, Thickbroom G and Mastaglia FL (2013) The effects of a supervised Pilates training program on balance in Parkinson’s disease. Advances in Parkinson’s Disease 2 (2013) 58-61.

Wong YT, Putrino D, Weiss A, Pesaran B (2013) Utilizing movement synergies to improve decoding performance for a Brain Machine Interface. Conf Proc IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc 2013:289-92. 

Putrino D, Wong YT, Vigeral M, Pesaran B (2012) Development of a closed-loop feedback system for real-time control of a high-dimensional Brain Machine Interface. Conf Proc IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc. 2012: 4567-70.

Wong YT, Vigeral M, Putrino D, Pfau D, Merel J, Paninski L, Pesaran B (2012) Decoding arm and hand movements across layers of the macaque frontal cortices. Conf Proc IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc. 2012: 1757-60.

Putrino D, Chen Z, Ghosh S and Brown EN (2012) Motor cortical networks for skilled movements have dynamic properties that are related to accurate reaching. Neural Plasticity.

Gardner EP, Putrino D, Chen J (2011) Spike trains in posterior parietal and premotor cortex encode trained and natural grasping behaviors. BMC Neuroscience 12: P36.

Kim S, Putrino D, Ghosh S and Brown EN (2011) A Granger causality measure for point process models of ensemble neural spiking activity. PLoS Computational Biology 7: 1-13.

Putrino D, Brown EN, Mastaglia FL and Ghosh S (2010) Differential involvement of excitatory and inhibitory neurons of cat motor cortex in coincident spike activity related to behavioral context. The Journal of Neuroscience 30: 8048-56.    

Putrino D, Mastaglia FL and Ghosh S (2010) Neural integration of reaching and posture: interhemispheric spike correlations in cat motor cortex. Experimental Brain Research 202: 765-77.

Chen Z, Putrino D, Ghosh S, Barbieri R, and Brown EN (2010) Statistical inference for assessing functional connectivity of neuronal ensembles with sparse spiking data. IEEE: Transactions of Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering 19: 121-35.

Chen Z, Putrino D, Ba DE, Ghosh S, Barbieri R, and Brown EN (2009) A regularized point process generalized linear model for assessing the functional connectivity in the cat motor cortex. Conf Proc IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc. 2009: 5006-9.

Ghosh S, Putrino D, Burro B and Ring A (2009) Patterns of spatio-temporal correlations in the neural activity of the cat motor cortex during trained forelimb movements. Somatosensory and Motor Research 26: 31-49.

Ghosh S, Putrino D, Mastaglia FL (2009) Neural networks involved in the control of skilled movement correlated spike activity in the primary motor area of the cerebral cortex. Journal of Clinical Neuroscience 16: 1544.

Recent Conference Proceedings

Putrino D, Panna T, Naeem O, Disla L, Edwards DJ (2013) Pairing non-invasive brain stimulation and online rehabilitation: Online gaming engines as platforms for state-of-the-art neuro-rehabilitation. NYC Neuromodulation Conference, Nov. 22-23, New York, NY.

Putrino D, Wong Y, Seideman J, Weiss A, Pesaran B (2013) Using virtual reality environments to train high-dimensional control of a virtual upper limb prosthetic. Society for Neuroscience, 43rd Annual Meeting, Nov. 9-13, San Diego, CA.

Shewcraft RA, Pinskiy V, Tolpygo AS, Mukherjee A, Putrino D, Wong YT, Mitra PP, Pesaran B (2013) Dissecting long-range circuits in macaque cortex by registering optogenetically driven neural activity with anatomical connectivity. Society for Neuroscience, 43rd Annual Meeting, Nov. 9-13, San Diego, CA.

Putrino D, Wong YT, Weiss A, Pesaran B (2012) Development of a closed-loop feedback system for real-time control of a high-dimensional Brain Machine Interface. Society for Neuroscience, 42nd Annual Meeting, Oct. 13-17, New Orleans, LA.

Wong YT, Vigeral M, Putrino D, Pfau D, Merel J, Paninski L, Pesaran B (2012) Characterizing the performance of decoding arm and hand joint angles across layers of the macaque frontal cortices. Society for Neuroscience, 42nd Annual Meeting, Oct. 13-17, New Orleans, LA.

Putrino D, Chen J, Gardner EP (2011) Representation in motor cortex (MI) of hand actions in a bimanual prehension task. Society for Neuroscience, 41st Annual Meeting, Nov. 12-16, Washington, DC.

Chen J, Putrino D, Gardner EP (2011) Representation in somatosensory (SI) cortex of hand actions in prehension tasks. Society for Neuroscience, 41st Annual Meeting, Nov. 12-16, Washington, DC.

Putrino D, Chen Z, Ghosh S, Brown EN (2010). Alterations in neural spiking rate and spiking associations in the cat motor cortex are related to errors in reaching. Society for Neuroscience 40th Annual Meeting, Abstract 494.19, Nov. 13-17, San Diego, CA.

Ghosh S, Putrino D (2010). Differences in task related and coincident spike activity between regular and fast spiking neurons in the cat motor cortex. Society for Neuroscience 40th Annual Meeting, Abstract 732.3, Nov. 13-17, San Diego, CA.     

Putrino D, Kim S, Ghosh S, Brown EN (2010) Evaluation of excitatory and inhibitory spiking associations in the cat motor cortex related to a skilled movement task using a point process framework. Society for Neuroscience 40th Annual Meeting, Abstract 732.5, Nov. 13-17, San Diego, CA.

Chen Z, Weiner VS, Ching S, Putrino DF, Cash S, Kopell N, Purdon PL, Brown EN. (2010) Assessing neuronal interactions of assemblies during general anesthesia. IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Conference, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Citations via Google Scholar

Lab Members

Coming soon.


Current Projects

Coming soon.


Coming soon.

News and Media

May 20, 2015
Westchester Magazine — The 3 Coolest Things That Happened At HealthTech ’15. 

April 22, 2015
Fox 5 News — Gaming Therapy by Putrino Lab at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital [Video]  

April 16, 2015
Metro — New stroke therapy uses motion sensor video game to help rehabilitation  

April 7, 2015
abc7 New York — New Video Game Helping Stroke Patients Regain Movement  

February 23, 2015
Not Impossible Now — Neuroscientist David Putrino hopes to make physical therapy more fun and efficient for stroke patients by having them play an airplane video game.  

August 11, 2014
IEEE Spectrum — Buildng Mind-Controlled Gadgets Just Got Easier  

August 6, 2014
Runner's World — Electric Brain Stimulation

August 2, 2014
Outside — Your Body on Brain Doping

June 12, 2014
Dr. Putrino and other BMRI scientists teamed up with Red Bull Project Endurance to study the brains of elite athletes and better understand why athletes stop and slow down.  Watch a video documenting their intense week-long training program: "How Does the Brain of an Elite Athlete Work?"

Project Daniel (selected articles)

February 2014
BBC — Project Daniel  [Audio]

January 2014
Wired.co.uk — Sudanese volunteers are printing £60 limbs in six hours for local amputees
Time.com — How a TIME Article Led to the Invention of a $100 3D-Printed Artifical Limb
TheGuardian.com — How a 3D printer gave a teenage bomb victim a new arm - and a reason to live
MDTmag.com — Photos of the Day: 3D Printing Limbs for Children in War-Torn Sudan
Good Newsz Only Blog — "Not Impossible" - Non-profit "printing" new limbs for those that lost theirs in the war
Appetite For Instruction Blog — Printing Renewed Lives, One Hand at a Time

BrainWriter Project

July 3—Sept 14, 2014
Barbican Centre — Digital Revolution: An Immersive Exhibition of Art, Design, Film, Music and Video Games

July 7
CNN — The hands-on world of digital art.

July 3
TechRepublic — How the "Brainwriter" is overshadowing Google Glass and Oculus Rift at London event. 

April 2014
CNN — Naïvete is key to innovation  [Video]

The BrainWriter — A next-generation device that reads basic brain waves (EEG) to engage and disengage a computer mouse.

Stroke Research

November 2013
Sunday Night
 — My dad Don  [Video]
The West Australian — Stroke research a game-changer

Scientific Editorials

December 2013
 — #DigitalSkeptic: Big Data is Dumb If You're Smart

November 2013
 — #DigitalSkeptic: The Quantified-Self Delusion

May 2013
 — Manipulative Machines: Why We Love Robots







David Putrino, Ph.D., P.T., is setting up his new lab in the basement of the Burke Medical Rehabilitation Institute and it looks like something out of the future.  In place of lab benches and fume hoods, the space will boast an assortment of high-tech toys—motion capture systems, EEG and EMG equipment, computers with powerful graphics cards—all in the service of telemedicine.  BMRI has long been a pioneer of rehabilitation research and Dr. Putrino, who joined the faculty in February, is studying ways to harness the latest technology to improve rehabilitation and physical therapy. “Burke is putting in enough resources so that in a couple of years we’ll be a real leader in telemedicine,” he says.

Dr. Putrino started his career as a physical therapist in Perth, Australia, helping patients with a variety of neuromuscular problems, from cystic fibrosis to hip replacement and abdominal surgery.  He noticed that patients often did not follow the prescribed exercises. “The truth is that physical therapists have so many patients to treat that individual patients aren’t going to get the care they need, especially once they leave the hospital and have no one to push them,” he says.  Moreover, he became dissatisfied with the lack of science in the way therapy was practiced. There wasn’t a rigorous understanding of what therapies led to the best outcomes for patients.  Optimal therapy for stroke patients, for example, was essentially a “black box.”

Dr. Putrino wanted to peer into that black box and gain a scientific understanding of how therapy leads to recovery.  He went on to graduate school at the University of Western Australia to study the neurophysiology of motor control, which, he soon found, brought up more questions than it answered.  His Ph.D. work looked at the neurophysiology of target reaching in cats (surprisingly trainable, he says), specifically, how individual and pairs of neurons behaved as the animal planned a movement or learned a skill.  Then as a post-doc at Harvard and MIT, working with Emery Brown, M.D., Ph.D., he built upon this work to analyze large sets of neural data.  For normal movement, he explains, “You need large numbers of neurons firing in synchrony with very specific timing.”  Aberrant firing patterns among the neurons can cause motor dysfunction. 

Two years later, Dr. Putrino moved to a post-doc position at NYU, where he worked on a DARPA-funded project involving monkeys controlling robotic limbs.  His first task was to build a prosthetic limb.  With his background as a physical therapist and knowledge of joints and biomechanics, he considered the options.  “I can make the prosthetic 27 dimensional to emulate all the movements of a human arm and it would cost 2 to 3 million dollars,” he told Bijan Pesaran, his PI at the time.  “Or I can build you a virtual prosthetic that uses kinematic models and works and behaves like a real limb for a fraction of the cost.”  The lab went with the second option.  A virtual prosthetic has the added advantage of being highly customizable, easily made to resemble a monkey, a robot, or a weird blob.  Using the virtual limbs, the lab was able to study embodiment—the feeling that your arm is your arm—and how to diminish or boost that feeling, or transfer it to a prosthetic. 

“In the virtual world you can do more,” says Dr. Putrino.  By tapping into the virtual world, his new lab at BMRI aims to make therapy more scientific, more fun, and ultimately more effective. Virtual games that integrate therapy can engage and motivate patients to complete exercises that may otherwise seem onerous.  Motion capture technology offers, for the first time, a way to precisely assess small changes in motor abilities.  The goal is to clarify exactly how specific exercises correlate with improvement in function.  “If someone says, ‘The main thing I want to do is rub my hair in the shower,’ I’ll know what exercises to give them,” says Dr. Putrino. 

New technology has made finding these answers possible, and increasingly affordable. “Up to five years ago, if you wanted to track everything the patient is doing, you’d have to put the patient in a motion capture system that cost $200,000.  Now I can do this with a Microsoft Kinect that retails for a couple hundred dollars,” he says.

Dr. Putrino’s enthusiasm for bringing low-cost, innovative solutions to people in need extends beyond BMRI.  He has worked with Not Impossible Labs, a California-based non-profit technology company, on several projects. He was part of the team that designed the prototype for Project Daniel, which uses 3-D printers to build simple prosthetic arms (about $100) for people injured in war-torn Sudan.  Another venture was inspired by a graffiti artist paralyzed by ALS.  Known as the Brainwriter (about $300), it’s a device that uses brain waves to control a cursor on a computer screen, helping those with limited motor function to communicate and to create.  

“The work that I do with Not Impossible Labs is important to me because it shows that implementing innovative technology into the practice of medicine is making things better, not worse,” says Dr. Putrino.  One of the main challenges for those on the forefront of telemedicine is the perception that the merging of technology with rehabilitation will result in a lower and less personal standard of care.  Dr. Putrino is determined to prove the very opposite.  “I am passionate about showing the world that telemedicine and virtual rehabilitation are going to result in better standards of care and outcome for millions of patients worldwide,” he says. “There is no limit to the impact we can have.”  

April 2014