Restoration of Standing and Walking after Spinal Cord Injury

Funding Details
Canadian Institutes of Health Research
  • Grant type: Doctoral: Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships
  • Years: 2014/15 to 2016/17
  • Total Funding: $150,000
Keywords
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Project Summary

Even a small injury to the spinal cord can cause people to lose their ability to move. There is currently no cure to spinal cord injury (SCI). As well as impacting a person's quality of life and independence, this condition costs society in medical care and lost earnings. More than half of SCIs occur in young people (16-30 years old) making this situation even more significant. SCI is usually treated using rehabilitation. This leads to small improvements, but patients often need help with their daily lives. The goal of my project is to develop interventions to restore movements of the legs after SCI. Being able to stand and walk is a high priority for people with SCI, and one that improves their quality of life. Neural interfaces (NIs) are small devices that interact with the nervous system using electricity. My lab invented an NI that electrically stimulates the spinal cord, and that has been successful in helping animals stand and walk after SCI. Results suggest this may be a viable clinical method for restoring leg movements to people with paralysis, but critical questions remain before preparing this technology for human benefit. One question I will investigate is: where, exactly should an implant be placed in the human spinal cord so that the best standing and walking can be restored? Once this is determined, a version of the implant suitable for humans will be developed and I will test it in pigs. I will gain important information about the functionality and stability of the movements produced by the implant and how they are affected by spasticity. The results will be extremely valuable for developing the very first version of an implant suitable for testing in humans. The potential for NIs to improve the health of people who have lost movement or sensation is enormous. This NI research hopes to deliver outcomes that effectively restore the ability to stand and walk for people with SCI, significantly improving their quality of life and also human productivity