Feinstein Institutes Awarded $3.6M From New York State For Spinal Cord Injury Research

spinal cord injury
Feinstein Institutes Awarded $3.6M From New York State For Spinal Cord Injury Research

In order to govern our motions and process sensations, the spinal cord functions as the information highway, conveying impulses to and from our brain. A spinal cord injury (SCI) can cause paralysis, sometimes affecting all four limbs. Researchers at The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research have been awarded a five-year, $3.6 million grant from the New York State Department of Health to study spinal cord stimulation and novel brain implant technology in order to better understand what transpires to the brain and body after a SCI and to develop new methods of treatment using bioelectronic medicine to regain movement and sensation.

Chad Bouton, vice president of advanced engineering and professor at the Institute of Bioelectronic Medicine at the Feinstein Institutes, is the study’s principal investigator. Ashesh Mehta, MD, PhD, also from the Feinstein Institutes, and Susan Harkema, PhD, from the University of Louisville are the study’s co-principal investigators.

“Losing movement in all four limbs makes tasks like getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, and getting dressed impossible. There is a drastic deterioration in quality of life and currently there is no cure for permanent paralysis,” said Prof. Bouton, the study’s principal investigator. “With the state’s generous support, we have the potential to study new bioelectronic medicine solutions that could restore movement for those living with spinal cord injuries.”

Cervical stimulation given at the base of the neck has been shown in prior studies by Prof. Bouton, Dr. Santosh Chandrasekaran, a researcher at the Feinstein Institutes, and their colleagues to improve healing following injury. The new study will evaluate the use of brain-computer interface (BCI) technology, which entails implanting numerous microscopic “chips” (tiny micro-electrodes) in the brain, in combination with cervical stimulation. Two participants will start with over-the-skin stimulation for several months, followed by six months of BCI-driven over-the-skin spinal cord stimulation to aid in further recovery. The research team will enrol 12 participants who will receive over-the-skin spinal cord stimulation for 12 months.

In training sessions that are activity-based and BCI-assisted, people with SCI will do activities while getting cervical stimulation. In order to regain long-term control over the muscles, it is important to monitor how the stimulation affects the brain’s activity patterns as well as arm and hand movements.

“New York State support of this project comes at a critical time as advances in bioelectronic medicine continue to make progress towards enhancing mobility in patients with spinal cord injury”, “This also supports an important and productive collaboration between Feinstein Institutes’ Chad Bouton and his team with the University of Louisville team led by Susan Harkema, PhD.”

Kevin J. Tracey, MD, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institutes and Karches Family Distinguished Chair in Medical Research.

The Feinstein Institutes is the epicentre of bioelectronic medicine, a branch of science that combines molecular medicine, neuroscience, and biomedical engineering to create novel therapies that stimulate nerves rather than administer drugs to treat a range of illnesses and conditions, including paralysis.

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