Kessler Foundation Scientists Receive $500,000 In Grants


The New Jersey Commission on Spinal Cord Research has awarded three Kessler Foundation scientists grants totaling $500,000 to advance exploratory pilot studies in early intervention after spinal cord injury. Two studies will look at rehabilitation using spinal cord transcutaneous stimulation, and another will look at the impact of a BrainHQ cognitive training program on improving processing speed abilities shortly after SCI.

Fan Zhang, PhD, research scientist in the Tim and Caroline Reynolds Center for Spinal Stimulation, received a $199,864 grant to study, “Establishing the Feasibility, Safety, and Efficacy of Spinal Cord Transcutaneous Stimulation with Activity-based Training for Upper Extremity Function Recovery in Individuals with Acute to Subacute Tetraplegia.”

Thus far, very few studies have addressed the safety, feasibility, and efficacy of spinal cord transcutaneous stimulation (scTS). “We hypothesize that implementing scTS combined with activity-based training (ABT) as a daily therapy will be safe, feasible and could establish substantial evidence for integrating scTS+ABT into inpatient rehabilitation practice,” explained Dr. Zhang. “Doing so would significantly accelerate functional and neurological recovery in current clinical care,” he said, adding, “By evaluating the pre and post changes of cortical and spinal excitability, we will explore the potential neurophysiological mechanism underlying the combined intervention.”

Einat Engel-Haber, MD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Tim and Caroline Reynolds Center for Spinal Stimulation and the Center for Spinal Cord Injury Research, has been awarded a $100,000 grant to investigate the use of scTS in treating orthostatic hypotension (a significant drop in blood pressure when moving from a supine to an upright position) in people up to 30 days after a new SCI. The study, “Neuromodulation of Blood Pressure Using Transcutaneous Spinal Stimulation in Individuals with a Subacute Spinal Cord Injury,” conducted by Dr. Engel-Haber, is a novel crossover randomized controlled trial (RCT).

“Orthostatic hypotension is more frequent and severe in the earlier phases after SCI and often interferes with full participation in therapy sessions during inpatient rehabilitation,” said Dr. Engel-Haber. “This is the first study to apply spinal cord stimulation (epidural or transcutaneous) to address orthostatic hypotension during sub-acute settings following SCI. It is an important step in integrating scTS into the early recovery phase to improve autonomic cardiovascular function,” she explained. “This restorative rehabilitation technique has the potential to improve both the physical well-being and the functioning of individuals with SCI during inpatient rehabilitation as well as after discharge.”

Erica Weber, PhD, a research scientist at the Center for Traumatic Brain Injury Research, will use her $198,988 grant to conduct a pilot study on “Early Intervention for Cognitive Processing Speed Deficits in Acute SCI: A Pilot Study.” Decades of research have focused on the physical limitations associated with SCI, as well as treatments for these physical issues. However, it is becoming more widely recognized that many people with SCI have significant cognitive difficulties.

“Today, cognitive assessment or rehabilitation is not part of the standard of care for individuals after SCI because of the relative lack of research in this area,” said Dr. Weber. “This pilot seeks to test whether a cognitive training program developed by BrainHQ can improve processing speed abilities in individuals shortly after they experience SCI,” she added. ”With improved access to high-quality cognitive treatment, individuals with SCI will be able to better prevent and address the impact of cognitive problems on their daily lives and therefore experience greater quality of life and holistic well-being,” she asserted.

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